Economy & Jobs

Ohio Takes the Lid Off State Spending With a New Online Checkbook

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Death and taxes: Both inevitable; both mysterious.

We can’t do anything about the former, but what if taxes didn’t have to be such a mystery? What if you knew exactly where your money went? State spending shouldn’t be some big secret, after all.

For Ohio residents, it no longer is. Thanks to OhioCheckbook.com, Ohio’s taxpayers can now find out exactly how the state is spending their money.

The Story of OhioCheckbook.com

The brainchild behind this innovative project is Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who launched the website in December 2014 with the goal of increasing fiscal transparency.

“I believe taxpayers have a right to know how their tax money is being spent, and I’m doing this to empower the people to hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable,” Mandel states in a December press release. “I subscribe to the notion that sunlight is the greatest disinfectant to government waste.”

Others seem to feel the same way, because the project is seeing great success. It “has received overwhelming support from newspapers and groups across the state,” says Chris Berry, Mandel’s press secretary. More than 215,000 searches have been conducted since the site’s launch.

Following the Money 2015, a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), ranks Ohio number one for state spending transparency. Ohio earned the highest score ever recorded since the report began six years ago: a perfect 100. In addition, PIRG ranks the state the most improved.

The Buckeye State earned these top marks because of the wealth of data OhioCheckbook.com provides: checkbook-level entries that account for $408 billion of state spending over the past seven fiscal years. The site’s ease of use is another reason for its popularity; it features “Google-style” capabilities that allow users to search by context, agency, recipient, or keyword.

Mandel plans to continue growing the site, and he’s called on Ohio’s cities, townships, counties, and schools to upload their numbers. He’s also looking beyond state lines.

“Treasurer Mandel’s hope is that our efforts in Ohio will set off a national race for transparency and that others will accept this challenge and launch their own initiatives to empower taxpayers to hold public officials accountable,” says Berry, who adds that “a number of states” have expressed interest in the project.

How Transparency Benefits Taxpayers

OhioCheckbook.com’s transparency presents a unique and much needed opportunity for taxpayers to become engaged in state spending.

Mandel believes politicians might think twice about how they’re spending money if they know the information will be offered up for public scrutiny. In a response to PIRG’s praise, he says, “My vision is to create an army of citizen watchdogs who are empowered to hold the politicians accountable.”

That would be great for Ohio. Despite the fact that jobs are on the rise, the state lost an estimated $19.65 billion in annual AGI between 1992 and 2011 because of its high tax rate, according to “How Money Walks.” Now that Ohio taxpayers know exactly where their tax dollars are going, they’ll be better equipped to decide whether they want to push for further tax reform.

The bottom line? No matter what you believe constitutes appropriate state spending, you can’t argue with increased government transparency and holding politicians accountable for their actions.

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