Bill would require all governments to provide spending details online

by Byron Schlomach Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
Today, the Arizona Senate Committee on Appropriations will consider an important measure from Senator Jonathon Paton which would require all levels of government (including cities, towns, counties, school districts) to disclose in detail how they spend taxpayer money. It would also require the state to maintain a website where anyone could get quick access to information on every government in Arizona that has the power to levy taxes on them. Those governments would post details on a website about every expenditure and tax revenue collected, like an online checkbook register for city hall or the county courthouse.

This bill also would require government agencies and departments to establish performance benchmarks and list them for the public to review. Accurate crime statistics and details about county prosecutions would have to be reported as well.

For little cost, information about government operations can be made available 24 hours a day to people researching on their home computers or even on their cell phones. Most local governments have websites now, but the information they post often is so general that it doesn’t provide any real insight into how it conducts the people’s business.

The primary objection to these websites is that they will be costly to create and maintain. But experience proves otherwise. State Treasurer Dean Martin launched a transparency website in the midst of budget cuts, and states like Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas and Texas put spending information online using only existing resources. Nebraska created its spending transparency website, which does much of what this bill would require, for only $40,000. Some software companies, like ProcureNetworks, are even offering software to government agencies for free.

I have a question for those who use cost as a reason to oppose spending transparency: considering the recent declines in government revenue, how can we afford not to engage citizens more comprehensively in determining spending priorities and hunting down new efficiencies?

Taxpayers who foot government’s bills deserve the widest possible access to information on how their money is spent. Perhaps then Thomas Jefferson’s vision will be fully realized.

Dr. Byron Schlomach is an economist and the director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. Now THIS is a great bill!

    It puts the burden on government, not the individual.

  2. This is way past due! Government must be accountable for our money. Be wary of any government official that is opposed to this bill. They must have something to hide.

  3. Michelle Benham says

    How about having licensing boards fess up about the fees they charge? They don’t report how they spend fees to the public and let out of control executive directors hide payments to lobbyists and high rent payments. The boards increase licensing fees but don’t respond to the ones they license, and that’s a tax. How are people supposed to make a living when the state keeps raising fees.

  4. A breath of legislative fresh air!

    My special thanks to Sen. Paton!

  5. Stephen Kohut says

    Transparency! Who would have thought it. Knowledge is power and this gives the people access to critical information, where are the dollars going.

  6. Huzzah, Jonathan! Another star in your crown of common sense governance! We need you!

    The topper is Goldwater’s Schlomach take on the entire presentation.

    Just wonder, however, now that the key is inserted, how long to complete the turn to fruition?

  7. stephen rebro says

    Good idea, but did not Paton just resign.
    who will carry the ball?

  8. Montenegro

  9. Yah, right. says

    How about all of the legislators who voted to sell the state buildings go on an episode of Pawn Stars to explain how we done gone down to the three balled wonder and will owe vigorish out of future earnings, and will have to raise taxes to pay for that vigorish over the next twenty years?

    Why not a tax on the Payday Loan folks?

    After all, your legislators just took out a loan in your name, against that Constitution thingie we all ignore.

  10. To Tell The Truth says

    Montenegro is in the House and the bill is still in the Senate. Montenegro can’t carry water in a pale let alone a bill like this.

  11. Senator Melvin and other are working with him on a strong transparency bill.

  12. More information about government is a good thing. Pretending it won’t possibly cost a significant IT investment is ludicrous.

  13. Oh and BTW, why does the GI claim to want government transparency yet wants to keep hidden who is funding state government candidates’ campaigns?

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