The state of Missouri has a new website for the public to look over information about government finances.
The site was launched by Republican Treasurer Eric Schmitt as a replacement for the Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP) which was introduced in 2007 under former Republican Governor Matt Blunt.
The portal is still up and running under the operation of the Missouri Office of Administration.
Schmitt contends the new system known as Show Me Checkbook was necessary, given the technological advances that have been made during the past decade.
While introducing the new portal to reporters recently at the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Schmitt notes that Missouri received a D+ grade for financial transparency from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). He adds that when MAP was launched in 2007, Netflix was still a DVD service delivered through the mail.
The former state legislator is billing Show Me Checkbook as a one-stop for access to the state’s finances. The website has five pages with each one representing a different aspect of the state’s use of money – expenditures, revenue, payroll, liabilities and cash flow.
According to Schmitt, 20 million data points are used to provide information in charts and graphs within each category.
All five pages have three bullet points at the top with a breakdown of information below. A look at the budget page shows the bullet points as “total budget receipts” ($28.5 billion – fiscal year 2017), “general revenue fund receipts” ($10.9 billion – 2017) and the “largest revenue source” (Individual Income Tax, $7.8 billion – 2017).
A breakdown of tax collections below shows a chart with “individual income taxes”, “sales taxes” and “other taxes”, along with another chart that has bars representing collections in 12 categories such as corporate, license, liquor and beer taxes. Using the computer mouse to hover over or click on the various categories allows for a comparison of tax collections in each category over time ranging from daily up to quarterly and yearly breakdowns.
The Treasurer’s office says that finding the same information on the MAP website would’ve required finding a financial report, downloading multiple PDF files and taking notes.
Schmitt says Show Me Checkbook provides Missourians with easy access to the operation of state finances.
“For citizens who want to know what department is spending what, or what vendors are getting paid what, this is all out there,” says Schmitt. “For the first time now, it’s a one-stop shop for all of that information about how government spends its money.”
The website has been endorsed by the Missouri Press Association and the Missouri Society of Certified Public Accountants, as well as the conservative-leaning group Truth in Accounting.
The organization which graded the states on their financial transparency, Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), was started by activist Ralph Nader in the early 1970’s to affect liberal political change.
It’s report on how states rate in providing online access to government spending data noted that neither Republican-leaning nor Democratic-leaning states are significantly more transparent than the other. Its research showed that states with a Democratic governor averaged a transparency score of 73 while with Republican governors averaged 74.
The PIRG report notes the state of Texas claims to have saved $163 million after using its own upgraded government finances website to evaluate spending patterns of its state agencies.
In Missouri, Treasurer Schmitt thinks the transparency provided by the new website will shine a light on problems such as the state employee pension system being underfunded by 40%.
“It’s my belief that the more people know about that, there’ll be more of a focus from policymakers on addressing some of those kinds of issues,” Schmitt says.
Of Missouri’s surrounding states, the PIRG report rates five higher, with Iowa in the “Leading A” category and Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas and Nebraska classified as “Advancing B States”. Oklahoma and Tennessee are listed with Missouri as ”Lagging D States”. Missouri’s grade of D+ is matched by Oklahoma while Tennessee received a D-.
Schmitt says upgrades similar to what his department has done with the Show Me Checkbook site have been well received every place they’ve been implemented.
“The states that have done this, the reaction has been really, really positive,” says Schmitt. “And that is across the board. That’s for policymakers. That’s for journalists. That’s for citizens.”
Schmitt says his department was able to get the Show Me Checkbook site up and running for very little money, stating the only costs were licensing fees amounting to $2,000.
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