EDITORIAL: Comptroller's website sheds light on finances
Apr 11, 2012 (The Pantagraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Shining a light on how government operates is one of the ways that the state of Illinois can clean up its well-deserved reputation for corruption.
State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's office has taken a big step in that direction with the creation of a new website that gives citizens an up-to-date view of the state's finances.
Write this website down: ledger.illinoiscomptroller.com. And when you get done reading the paper, make a visit to the website and learn more about the state government's finances.
The comptroller's office is basically the keeper of the state checkbook. Every bill that gets paid goes through this office. The website gives viewers up-to-date information on where the state stands financially. At the end of the day Monday, the state had $207,126,086.32 available. But the comptroller's office has 197,444 bills to be paid totaling $6,208,913,290.85. You can find the latest figures on the ledger website.
While that's a nifty piece of information, the website contains a lot more valuable information.
There's a state contract database that provides a description of the agreement and viewers have an opportunity to obtain the actual contract. The site also contains a state employee salary database, detailing payments to all public employees. Topinka received a little more than $118,000 in salary during 2011, according to the website. The employee section also allows you to search for new hires, so viewers can see which legislator's relatives are getting new jobs with the state.
Every state agency budget is also included and it's possible to see how the agencies spend their money. In addition, all of the state's financial reports are available online. Topinka said sometime in the future the financial reports required by every governmental body in the state will be made available.
In another victory for transparency, each section of the site includes an automatically generated Freedom of Information request if someone wants additional information.
Topinka's reason for providing this information is simple.
"I ran on transparency, so this is carrying through on a campaign promise," she said. "Everyone talks about transparency but no one does anything."
Topinka said if taxpayers and voters know more about the state's finances they may be able to bring more pressure on political leaders to solve the issue.
Topinka is also aware that there are many in state government who would prefer to operate outside of the sunlight. She said she's ready for attempts by the General Assembly to remove some of the information she's sharing with the public from the public's view.
For now, Topinka has given taxpayers a valuable tool. Much of the information about how tax dollars are spent is available and easily accessible. The website is a model not only for smaller governmental units, but also for the federal government.
Topinka's office should be congratulated for taking the step to make this information easily available.
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