Checking the government’s checkbook
For the Appeal
On March 18, Gov. Jim Gibbons issued an Executive Order (EO) that starts off rather badly. It reads, “Whereas, the purpose of the Nevada state government is to provide essential services to its citizens …”
Not. The purpose of the government is to protect our individual rights, not provide “essential services.” And exactly who gets to define what’s “essential” anyway? Is a college-level course on the “Culture of Pizza” essential? (Amazingly, some people actually answer “Yes” to this question).
The good news, however, is that the governor’s EO instructs his administration to develop a public Web site and searchable database “allowing citizens to review state financial records,” including “financial data, vendor payments and payroll data.” In other words, the government’s checkbook.
Providing this information to the public will be the greatest tool for assuring government accountability we’ve seen in a long, long time. Finally, the government will be required to show taxpayers exactly where every dime is going and for what purpose.
Of course, the governor’s “Nevada Open Government Initiative” is only a proposal on a piece of paper at this point. But the EO does instruct the Nevada Department of Administration to “seek the cooperation and collaboration of the Nevada Controller” in order to put the government’s checkbook online for all the world to see “as soon as practicable.”
State Controller Kim Wallin has been a leading advocate for just this kind of transparency Web site for more than a year now. And the state’s checkbook is already available electronically on an internal computer system. So all Ms. Wallin needs to do is transfer that existing internal database to an external public Web site, making sure personal information such as Social Security numbers and such remain confidential.
Nevada uses pretty much the same accounting software system as Missouri, which has already established its own public transparency Web site. To do the same for Nevada would cost, at most, about $350,000. Peanuts for the state’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT), which operates on a $67 million budget. Surely the generously-funded DoIT can find a measly $350,000 lying around in the sofa cushions somewhere in order to allow the Controller to fully deploy this Web site “as soon as practicable” – which Wallin estimates would be in about 90-120 days once she receives the money.
Considering the dire state of Nevada’s economy these days, and the undeniable need to cut government somewhere, it’s imperative that a public Web site showing the government’s checkbook be made available to taxpayers sooner rather than later. So I hope the governor will immediately put the money Ms. Wallin needs behind his Executive Order and let the sun shine in before next November’s elections.
On another note, an awful lot of Carson City residents are furious with the city supervisors for deciding to put an advisory question on the ballot about raising taxes to fund Mayor Marv Teixeira’s V&T Railway to Nowhere, but refusing to put a similar question on the ballot about raising taxes for cops and firefighters.
I’m not in favor of raising taxes for the V&T Railway – unless it’s 100 percent privately funded. However, I am fully in favor of citizens telling the supervisors to stick it in their collective ears and going forward with a citizen-led initiative to place this matter on the ballot for the voters of Carson City to decide, whether the supervisors like it or not.
My quick reading of the Nevada Revised Statutes indicates that a citizens group may be able to do this, and would need to collect about 2,800 signatures by June 27 (15 percent of the number of voters in the last election) to qualify the measure. I’m guessing that if cops and firefighters got behind such a community effort, they could pull it off. But they better get organized … FAST.
• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit http://www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.