Oklahoma reputation for financial transparency isn’t very good with outside evaluators. They give the Sooner state a grade of D+. Governor Stitt and State Treasurer Randy McDaniel want to change that. Last week, Governor Stitt and McDaniel announced the launch of a website called Oklahoma Checkbook (checkbook.ok.gov) that will provide data on state expenses. The site is a partnership between the governor’s office and the state treasurer’s office. “This really fulfills a campaign promise that we told Oklahomans that we were going to do. We were going to make government more accountable and more transparent. This is a huge step in the right direction,” Stitt said. “Oklahoma Checkbook will shine a light on financial operation of the state and will allow everyone to see where their tax dollars are being spent and that is the right thing to do,” State Treasurer Randy McDaniel said. Oklahoma Checkbook was patterned after similar sites in West Virginia and Ohio.
Oklahoma Checkbook claims they will eventually have online: (1) Payroll information for state employees, (2) Crime statistics, (3) State expenditures on outside vendors, (4) High School and university graduation rates, (5)Rates of health problems like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, (6) State park information, and(7) Air and water quality assessments. They plan to add education (public schools) to the site, allowing parents to see how their schools are spending their money. Three points:
First, Oklahoma state government, through the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, already has a website called Open Books, whose stated purpose is to provide financial information about state government. The new Oklahoma Checkbook has a link to Open Books on their site. What is the difference? Did taxpayers really need to fund another site to provide the same information?
Second, transparency in government is good. Transparency breeds legitimacy. When citizens don’t know what government is doing, it breeds suspicion, apprehension, and skepticism. The promise of transparency is made by every politico in every campaign, but seldom fulfilled. Far too much of what happens in government is unknown to those paying the bills.
Third, government is not made more transparent by consolidating power. The governor, legislature and state wide elected officials seem intent on creating their own audit/transparency mechanism that reports only to them. That lack of collaboration results in duplication and addition cost to taxpayers. Circumventing the duties of the constitutional elected offices reeks of a power grab.
The real responsibility for transparency and accountability from Oklahoma government starts and ends with Oklahoma citizens. Until more average Oklahomans start paying attention to their government, building websites and posting information will have little impact. If the site is used, it may be a game changer for the state, because after all government is spending your money.