Tennessee needs more transparency
By state Sen. Bill Ketron • January 15, 2009
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.”
In 2006, Congress passed the Federal Funding and Accountability and Transparency Act, creating a free, searchable Web site for all federal contracts and grants. It provides access to data on all payments of more than $25,000 with exceptions. Advertisement
Since then, states have begun to focus on the issue of transparency in government finance. It is time for Tennessee to step up and emulate this effort.
I recently attended an American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Washington with more than a half-day dedicated to this issue. More than 20 states have already enacted legislation dealing with transparency, with more to follow this year.
It was there that I decided that I would be prepared to introduce such a bill in the 106th General Assembly. I firmly believe taxpayers should be able to easily access details on how the state is spending their tax dollars and what performance results are achieved for those expenditures. It should be the intent of the legislature to direct the state budget office to create and maintain a searchable budget Web site detailing where, for what purpose, and what results are achieved for all taxpayer investments in state government. Taxpayers deserve to know exactly how government spends their tax dollars. Local boards should open up
The effort to empower taxpayers to track their tax dollars at a mouse click does not stop at the state level. Localities in many states have begun to evaluate the concept of fiscal accountability through transparency and have started to post their expenditures online. These efforts range from school boards posting their district’s check register online to cities providing access to their expenditure information via the Internet.
This month, the Tennessee School Boards Association will be bringing a bill asking for taxing authority to be taken away from the county commissions. This will raise a red
flag for many because it is a new concept and because of the distrust the electorate has for all elected officials.
I have heard people say: “Why take authority away from people that we don’t trust and give it to another group of people that we don’t trust?”
All of us have seen the battles between school boards and county commissions in recent years. I would suggest, before passing a bill with statewide application to give school boards taxing authority, maybe county commissions should require school boards to post all expenditures all the way down to each local school on the Internet. Then everyone could see where their tax dollars are spent.
I was told at this conference that there would be two groups who would oppose passage of this legislation: incumbents and bureaucrats.
I say, “If you don’t like public dollars being transparent, then go to work in the private sector.” Every public dollar spent should have a viewable trail.
I am optimistic that this bill will pass in the General Assembly this year. If you agree with this concept, please contact your senator or representative and ask him/her to support this legislation. It’s your money!
Sen. Bill Ketron is a Republican from Murfreesboro.