Sunday, May 10, 2009
NDPC Investigates by Jacqueline Dotzenrod
Issue: Budget & Spending
Sunshine is soon to be streaming out of North Dakota. A bill awaiting the governor’s signature contains legislation to create a searchable database of all state expenditures that can be accessed online by the public.
“I’m extremely pleased we were able to get this effort through,” Rep. Blair Thoreson of Fargo said. “It’s been my major goal for this legislative session and I’m extremely happy that it was completed. It was not an easy process by any means.”
The proposed website, which began as HB 1377, passed the House with a 69-25 vote. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee turned the bill into a study. The legislation to create the website was later put into the Department of Commerce Appropriations bill, SB 2018.
“In the end, we have something that I think is going to open up the books of the state and allow every citizen to go in and easily see where their dollars are being spent,” Thoreson added. “There were a lot of citizens who sent in e-mails (to legislators) in support of HB 1377. Although that bill didn’t survive, the effort that went into it did and that’s what’s important.”
The website is to be built by the Office of Management and Budget by June 30, 2011. OMB has already taken steps to improve transparency by posting state spending information on its website (http://www.nd.gov/fiscal/spending/).
“We were going in that direction anyway, so this fits in really well with what we’re doing,” OMB Director Pam Sharp said. “I think it’s a good thing and it will be useful to the public.”
However, the website laid out in legislation will go into further detail and will include fiscal information for the ND University System, which is not included in current reports posted by OMB.
“I feel that’s important,” Thoreson said. “They (NDUS) have received a significant increase in funding this session and I really feel that the people of the state need to know where those dollars are being spent.”
The searchable website carries a projected price tag of $400,000 of federal stimulus funds. In comparing how much other states have spent on similar projects, Thoreson believes OMB may be able to bring it in under budget. If not, he believes it is still worth the cost to give citizens transparency in state government spending. Sharp anticipates the largest expense in the project will be “scrubbing” the data to ensure that no confidential or exempt information is released.
Thoreson plans to meet with officials from OMB throughout the interim to check on progress of the project.
Legislation for the website can be found in Section 35 of SB 2018: http://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/61-2009/bill-text/JQNH0600.pdf