By J.T. “Jerry” Miller
Former Commissioner of Kentucky’s Department of Parks
You are a huge basketball fan. Your team is playing in the tournament finals. You’ve used your hard earned money to buy tickets for your family, not to mention the expensive drinks, popcorn and hot dogs. Now imagine that you and the other fans in the stands have to watch the game through a foggy window. You can’t really see the action, so you have to rely on the P.A. announcer who will give you updates on what’s going on – as he sees it. If you ask, someone will give you a printed game summary after it ends or you can wait for tomorrow’s newspaper so you can read what a sports reporter thought about the game. Would you get the impression that someone doesn’t really want you to know everything about the game? Are they afraid of what you might say about the coach or players on a radio call-in show?
You may not realize it, but that’s exactly what happens daily in the halls of state government. You, the taxpayers, have paid the price of admission. Every day, money is spent behind the foggy window of your right to know. You can read the newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch TV to see what other people think is important. You can even send in an Open Records Request to find out how much or how little is being spent on something you are interested in. That is, of course, if you don’t mind paying someone to mail you the information they think you want or using some of that $4 per gallon gas to travel to Frankfort.
Kentucky’s government bureaucrats and other insiders such as political consultants, lobbyists, industry PAC directors, union leaders, and other officials, like it the way it is. It makes their job easier, but does it make you feel there are things these people don’t want you to know? If things are ever going to change in Frankfort, it will take the involvement of truck drivers, nurses, farmers, students, soccer moms, seniors and anyone else with an interest in fixing what we don’t like in government.
Twenty-four states have passed “transparency” laws. These states and even the Federal Government (www.USAspending.gov), provide 24 hours a day, 365 days a year internet access to a searchable database of contracts, grants or expenditures. Today’s technology provides the perfect seat for citizens to see how their tax money is being spent – when they want to know it.
People have grown disgusted with wasteful pork-barrel spending and plain inefficiency. We must eliminate the secrecy that surrounds government spending. Let the people see how government is spending their money and then you will see responsibility return to government. Whether you believe in less government or believe that more money should be directed toward education and social services, we can all agree that reducing wasteful government spending is in everyone’s best interests.
Most of this information is publicly available, accessible by state employees, but the public can get this information only by sending an open records request, waiting for someone to rummage through file cabinets or computer files and then either pay them to copy the material or travel yourself to Frankfort to view it.
This issue transcends the traditional gulf between liberals and conservatives. On July 2, 2007, Grover Norquist, famous for his “no-tax pledge” and consumer advocate Ralph Nader jointly sent a letter to all state governors urging them to make their books transparent. During last year’s statewide campaigns, however, how many candidates did you hear saying that government transparency should be a priority?
We can transform government at all levels by using existing search-engine technology to provide transparency which will enable citizens to demand efficiency. The existing paper-heavy system empowers the Frankfort establishment and is less accountable to taxpayer and media scrutiny.
Transparency will empower a renewed democracy. Democracy flourishes when there is a free exchange of information and ideas. Restrict the information available and democracy suffers.
Transparency drives accountability – a principle that the Founding Fathers understood. Thomas Jefferson once said:
“We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress and every man of any mind in the Union should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.”
Tell your state legislators that you want to see all the action in the games being played in Frankfort. Transparency will make sure you know the real score.