IIt is difficult to oppose a measure that would require governments to be more financially transparent.
Legislation to create a database to track every penny spent by counties and parishes was passed overwhelmingly and put into effect in June by Missouri’s Governor Mike Parson.
However, participation – sending financial information for publication on a government website – is voluntary.
“The Missouri Transparency Act is a great first step in opening up local government spending,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of openthebooks.com, a not-for-profit government monitoring organization. “However, lawmakers should make transparency a requirement for receiving government funding. Why should local governments receive government funding if they are not transparent to taxpayers?”
Dave Roland, head of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri, questioned the role of the state.
“I’m not sure why a government program was necessary, especially if it appears that participation is voluntary,” said Roland.
A provision in House Bill 271, which went into effect Aug. 28, creates the “Missouri Local Government Database”. The bill, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, was passed 147: 2 in the House of Representatives and 29: 3 in the Senate.
The database will be available on the Administration Office’s website and information can be downloaded free of charge. Municipalities or counties with websites must have a clearly visible internet link to the database. It contains expenses that are made in every fiscal year that begins after December 31, 2022.
“Citizens must be able to follow the money,” said Andrzejewski. “After all, it is our tax money that the government spends.”
Roland praised the goal of creating financial transparency, but prefers other ways of achieving it.
“I would prefer that option to be available than not to have the option at all,” said Roland. âBut to be honest, this should have been done without government interference. There are many private groups that have already created websites that bring public information to light. They solicit information from governments and make it available to the public, which may be a better solution as government agencies do not voluntarily provide the information. As soon as a citizen has requested the information, he must provide it. “
The law provides a way for taxpayers to direct their local government to participate. If 5% of the registered voters of a state voting in the last general local election apply to participate by registered letter, the municipality or the county must comply and make the expenses semi-annually.
The law requires the following information for each issue:
- the amount and date of payment;
- the seller to whom the expenses were paid, unless disclosure of the seller’s name would violate a duty of confidentiality; in this case the seller can be listed as confidential;
- the purpose;
- the municipality or district that made or requested the expenditure.
“Line-by-line expenditure needs a mandatory transparency, since you can hide a lot of corruption in a household,” said Andrzejewski. “This is how we hold the political class accountable for tax and spending decisions.”
The database does not contain any confidential information or information that is not a public record. The state protected itself by adding that it is not liable for any disclosure of confidential information or non-public records.
The law requires the administrative office to provide a template to each municipality and county that participates in the database. Local and county governments are entitled to financial reimbursement of the costs incurred in participating in the database.
Expenses include any monetary payment made by a community or county to a seller, including payments, distributions, loans, advances, refunds, deposits, or gifts.
Wiemann did not respond to phone and email messages sent in the past few weeks. He announced his candidacy for the Senate seat of Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, on August 31, which will end his second four-year term in 2022.
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