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Providing access to Wisconsin’s checkbook

The ability to see how government uses taxpayer dollars is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending provides checks against corruption, bolsters public confidence and promotes fiscal responsibility.

In an effort to provide Wisconsinites with access to how their tax dollars are spent, Wisconsin’s Contract Sunshine Act was enacted into statute in May 2006. All agencies in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Wisconsin government were required to report to the Government Accountability Board any purchases made totaling at least $10,000 in a fiscal biennium. This information would then be posted on a publicly accessible website.

In December 2006, funding was appropriated to operate the Contract Sunshine website. One year later it was launched, but it wasn’t until October 2009 that an employee was actually assigned to oversee it.

Although 95 state agencies were required to report their expenditures, only 12 actually ever disclosed information. Therefore, to ensure true transparency in Wisconsin government’s spending, I supported the clause in the 2011-13 budget which directed the Department of Administration (DOA) to initiate and maintain a publicly accessible website reporting all expenditures over $100.

Once implemented, transparency portals will allow Wisconsinites to track any state spending over $100 with “checkbook-level” detail. To ensure user ease, the website will include a search engine.

State and local government agencies still have a long way to go with respect to meeting public expectations for transparency. In the second decade of the digital age, Wisconsin is at the bottom of the list with respect to this issue. Programs such as Wisconsin Shares have been dominated by scandal in recent years. More public eyes on state spending will not only dissuade wasteful spending but will help curtail fraud. Collected taxes are not the government’s earned money, but rather, the government is entrusted to wisely budget those dollars. Citizens have a right to know how their taxes are being spent. With transparency, Wisconsinites will be able to monitor the state’s checkbook.

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