Transparency Act sheds light on state spending

? Want to know the amount of state debt or how much state funding goes to higher education?

State debt totals $3.95 billion, and higher education will get nearly $900 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But those figures may be hard to come by for the everyday Kansan.

Soon, however, that may change because a new state law requires that a lot of information about how Kansans’ tax dollars are spent will be online in a central location.

“It will really make it easy for the lay person to go onto a single Web site and (search) any information from the fiscal year on any agency,” said Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, who was a primary sponsor of the Kansas Taxpayer Transparency Act.

Kelley said she hoped the information will increase awareness about state spending, which she says is too high.

“I believe that sunlight is good for government, and when we do things behind closed doors it breeds distrust,” she said.

During the recently completed legislative session, the Transparency Act sailed through the House and then got bottled up in the Senate but was eventually placed as an amendment by Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, on the major $12.5 billion state budget bill.

The state is undergoing a $30 million transformation of its financial management and accounting systems, and as part of that, lawmakers added the provision that will require a central online Web site for residents to access state spending information.

Transforming the state’s accounting systems will take about three years, but in the meantime officials will start putting together a Web site by the first of next year that will include state fiscal information.

“We want to be as transparent as we can,” said Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ budget director, Duane Goossen. “Our intent and agreement is to make as much available as possible now.”

The anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity said passage of the transparency provision was a silver lining in the budget process.

Alan Cobb, director of the AFP Kansas chapter, said he hoped the online database of information will lead to a reduction in state spending.

“With detailed information about state spending literally at citizens’ fingertips, taxpayers can now evaluate Kansas’ budget priorities for themselves,” Cobb said.