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About that Transparency Website

The following letter was emailed to Gov. Jim Gibbons this morning….

Dear Gov. Gibbons,

On March 18, 2008, you signed an Executive Order mandating the immediate creation of “a free Internet portal allowing citizens to review state financial records to the full extent possible by law,” including “expenditure information.” That means the government’s checkbook.

Indeed, at the time you promised that the citizens of Nevada “will have the same information that I have in dealing with state financial institutions.”

Despite assuring Nevadans that all information subject to your Nevada Open Government Initiative order would be online and available for public review and scrutiny, we’re still waiting. In the meantime, state legislators have raised our taxes and again increased spending.

It appears your administration has allowed this issue to fall by the wayside.

As of today, the promised website is not up and working – other than the less-than-helpful information on your proposed 2009 budget. It’s one thing to publish that you’ve proposed a $4.5 billion budget for education; it’s another thing altogether to show us exactly where and to whom and for what purpose that $4.5 billion goes.

We taxpayers want to be able to go through the state’s checkbook with a fine tooth comb.

Given the current state of Nevada’s finances, the issue of transparency could not be more critical. In budget battle and tax discussions where the ever-dreaded “cuts in services” and “tax hikes” are constantly on the table, it seems to us that utilizing every tool available to facilitate the process of finding savings in state government is prudent. That’s why there is no time like the present to post the state’s checkbook online.

Enabling taxpayers to play an active role in how their money is being spent is a common-sense principle of fiscal conservatism. With over 2.6 million residents in Nevada, could it really hurt to have that many sets of eyes peering over the checkbook register to help identify savings in the current budget?

Thomas Jefferson once said, “We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.”

Other states have already proven their success in utilizing a transparency website. In the state of Texas, State Comptroller Susan Combs has identified $8.7 million in savings by realizing savings for items as small as printer toner.

To opponents who claim that this effort is too costly, we say the facts prove otherwise. The cost to create the Missouri Accountability Portal was merely $293,140 – money that was taken from existing IT funds. The Texas site cost only $310,000 and was also taken from within existing funds, costing taxpayers nothing additional but saving them bundles of cash.

On May 23, 2008, we wrote about Controller Kim Wallin’s estimate that she could have the state’s checkbook online using existing and readily available data on the government’s internal computer system in 90-120 days. That was well over a year ago.

So why the delay?

With continuing revenue “shortfalls” to contend with, legislators in Carson City appear to be having a tough time identifying non-essential spending and cost-savings in the state’s budget. We taxpayers are ready and willing to help them. But we need the tool you promised us to do so.

Please advise as to exactly when the Nevada government’s checkbook will be available on “a free Internet portal allowing citizens to review,” as was promised by your administration almost a year and a half ago.

Sincerely yours,

Karri Bragg
Vice President of Operations
karri@citizenoutreach.com

cc. Controller Kim Wallin
Nevada Legislature