OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahomans interested in finding out how much each state employee earns or where state revenues are being spent soon will be able to find that information on a new state Web site being designed to shed more light on state finances.
Gov. Brad Henry on Tuesday signed a bill dubbed the Taxpayer Transparency Act directing the Office of State Finance to build a Web site detailing virtually all expenditures of state funds, including state contracts and tax credits and incentive payments given to businesses.
“We've already started work on it,” said Tony Hutchison, director of OSF. “We have a prototype already put together, and we're hoping in the summer or fall to have a public showing of where we are on it and how it's working.”
The bill requires the site to be operational by Jan. 1, 2008, but Hutchison said he expects to have a version up before that. He said getting the initial site up and running will cost about $100,000, but he said about $300,000 will be needed annually to continue updating the site and make it more user-friendly with a searchable database.
“There will be a lot of programming to make this work,” Hutchison said.
Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Taxpayers Union, said Oklahoma's new law is among the most far-reaching and will provide the most information to citizens.
“If there's any dark corner in government today, the state budget is where it lurks,” Sepp said. “This is neither a left- nor a right-wing issue, it's simply a sunlight issue in that both ends of the political spectrum and everyone in between would like to see where the money is going.”
Similar legislation already has been passed in Kansas and Minnesota, and several other states are considering such measures, Sepp said.
Much of the impetus to create these searchable databases comes from federal legislation to create a searchable Web site on government spending co-authored by U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sepp said.
“I don't think the trend is over yet,” he said.
Another benefit to such a system, Sepp said, is that allowing citizens to review the state's financial data will provide opportunities to uncover wasteful spending.
“I think that this kind of tool could expand the community of whistle blowers from a few lonely and persecuted folks to tens of thousands and even millions,” Sepp said.
The author of the measure, state Sen. Randy Brogdon, said his goal was to create an easy-to-use, searchable Web site that the average citizen could use.
“What I envisioned is someone like myself with limited computer knowledge being able to navigate through and find where elected officials are spending taxpayer money,” said Brogdon, R-Owasso. “Even as a senator, it's difficult to find out where all the money is being spent.”
Brogdon deflected a last-minute attempt to derail the bill launched by The State Chamber, an association that represents businesses and industry in the state. The group had urged Henry to veto the bill, arguing that exposing recipients of state tax credits may spook investors.
Henry signed the bill anyway, but urged lawmakers to address any unforeseen consequences that may develop from the database that might impact economic development.