by Max Brantley
The House completed action on the bill to set up a so-called state checkbook, a website where the public can look at all state expenditures. About 80 percent of state spending will be covered initially. The vote was 87-6.
Debate was extended as legislators preened about their support for open government. A few questions were raised about cost. Rep. Jim Nickels said he supported the bill, but suggested all those legislators who'd voted against appropriation bills with increases in general revenue should vote against this new system because it's slated for at least $250,000 a year in new state spending.
It can't hurt to put state spending on-line. It won't be free, but the cost is worth the expenditure, as many expenditures in government are. Those things are clear enough.
But face it. This is a gimmick, the flavor of the day. It will have some occasional limited benefit, but it opens nothing to public inspection that isn't already open under the law, if not on the web. If legislators were really serious about transparency, they'd provide more information about themselves. They'd update financial disclosure legislation to reveal more about their finances. We'd have more meaningful and enforced conflict-of-interest rules. We'd have a great deal more disclosure about lobby spending on legislators or, better still, eliminate lobbyist entertaining of lawmakers. We'd have an on-line, searchable database on campaign contributions and expenses. Conflict of interest forms, on the rare occasion when they're filed, would be on-line. And lots more. I presume all checks cut for legislative expenses and all other legislative expenditures will go on-line first thing. Right?