OP-ED | Never Underestimate The Power Of Government Transparency
On Monday, March 11, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee held a Public Hearing on a number of bills including Raised Bill 6566, An Act Concerning Transparency in Economic Assistance Programs. As the Deputy Director of the Yankee Institute, I testified in favor of the bill given the Yankee Institute’s unique experience with transparency efforts in Connecticut.
The Yankee Institute launched the Connecticut Sunlight Project in February 2010 to enable Connecticut’s taxpayers to review state government expenditures on a line-by-line basis. Over the past three years, our website CTSunlight.org received 1.6 million page views from almost a half million visits and it has grown to encompass nearly 2 million records.
This response is indicative of the public demand for information about how public funds are spent. The General Assembly took a significant step forward in this regard in 2010 with the passage of Public Act 10-155, An Act Requiring the Establishment of a Searchable Database for State Expenditures.
Raised Bill 6566 takes a logical “next-step” in the process started by Public Act 10-155 by making available to the public itemized data from the state’s various economic assistance programs. A number of states, such as Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Nebraska already make such information available to the public in some form. The Missouri Accountability Portal, or MAP for example, is available online at mapyourtaxes.mo.gov, and makes business tax credit data available to the public in a very easy-to-use, searchable, data downloadable format.
Another section of the bill requires the Department of Revenue Services perform a tax incidence study to identify who actually bears the burden of each particular tax and fee assessed by the state. The legal incidence — who is identified by law as the taxpayer — may not actually be the taxpayer in practice. The question depends on the relative elasticity of supply and demand for a good or service. Some taxes can be passed on from producers to consumers easily in the form of higher prices if there are no good substitutes not subject to the tax. Identifying who bears the economic incidence of a tax will point to taxes that should be repealed or modified.
The bill also mandates that the Office of Policy and Management publish the governor’s proposed budget on the Internet in a database format and that the Office of Fiscal Analysis post the finalized budget online in a database format within 30 days of passage. In conjunction with the transparency infrastructure that already exists in the state, this bill will make useful tools available to the taxpayers of this state. Anyone that wants to will be able to be their very own budget hawk.
Conversations about transparency efforts are often subject to the sin of making the perfect the enemy of the good. There are many opportunities to compete the two against the other, especially on transparency efforts, but there is no real need to do so.
It is important to view these transparency efforts as part of an ongoing process, rather than a one-time event. Raised Bill 6566 is the next step in this process.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com