SALEM - Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel wants to give taxpayers access to the state's checkbook anytime of the day or night through a free easy-to-read online format.
"The people of Ohio have a right to know how their tax money is being spent," he said. "My vision is to create an army of citizen auditors and to empower the people of Ohio to hold the politicians accountable."
Mandel talked about the checkbook legislation known as Open Ohio during a visit to the Salem News on Tuesday, all part of an effort to educate the citizens and opinion leaders about the quest for transparency and build support to get HB 175 passed and signed into law before the year ends.
State Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, introduced the bill in May 2013. The legislation gained overwhelming bi-partisan support, demonstrated by an 86-8 vote for passage on June 4 by the Ohio House. Locally, state Rep. Nick Barborak, D-Lisbon, voted in favor of the measure, while fellow Democrat state Reps. Bob Hagan of Youngstown and Sean O'Brien of Bazetta both voted against it.
Without passage by the Ohio Senate this fall, the bill will die and they'll have to start the legislative process all over again, so Mandel's been hitting the road to push for passage. He wants to have the Ohio State Government Expenditure Database up and running in the first quarter of next year.
"This will help smoke out waste, fraud and abuse in government," he said.
The spending data will come from all state agencies and offices, showing the amount spent, the date it was spent, who spent it and who received the money. He explained the checkbook can show everything from $2 for a pack of pencils to $2 million for a construction project. He said the travel expenses could prove interesting, allowing citizens to see where state workers and officials are going and how much the trips are costing.
Mandel said it's actually a continuation of what he already started in 2011 to make the government more transparent by putting state salaries and the salaries of school employees on his website at www.ohiotreasurer.gov. He also posted a database of state-owned property.
The legislation will require the state treasurer to continue displaying the salaries and also display information about expenditures made by state entities. Eventually, Mandel said he wants to have local information from cities, villages, counties and townships available on the website and eventually add universities and pension funds.
The current legislation only deals with expenditures by state entities. He stressed that payments to citizens for tax refunds or welfare will not be included in the checkbook to protect their private information.
When asked how the work on the online checkbook will be funded, he said the cost savings from cuts to his office budget will pay for it. He was also asked how the proposed database for local governments would be funded down the road and said it will not cost the local governments. The money will come from the state treasurer's office.
He said he'll partner with local governments and has already spoken to the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio Township Association. He said if they don't cooperate, he'll mandate it, noting "if they have nothing to hide, they should have no problem opening up their checkbooks."
He's expecting Open Ohio to be a national model for government transparency, noting that only Idaho, Nebraska and Texas have similar programs.
The legislation has support from the Ohio Newspaper Association, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, the Buckeye Institute and the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants. Mandel said there's not a lot of people against this, with mostly positive support.
The information to be posted is all a matter of public record now, but takes a lot more effort to access. This will make the data more accessible so citizens will know what's being spent.