Mass. lawmaker wants all state spending posted online

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By State Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford, Mass.), chairman of the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”  However, unlike dues in a voluntary association or trade group, taxpayers seldom know what their taxes are getting them.  Until now.

Last week the Massachusetts House of Representatives took a historic step towards promoting government transparency by adopting language that would require the Commonwealth to post all of its spending online, including the award of all tax credits.  While the measure must pass the Senate before heading to the governor’s desk, its inclusion in the fiscal year 2011 budget represents a commitment to providing this crucial information in a manner that is readily available, searchable, and free.

Public support is the foundation on which critical government programs are built.  Taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent, what vendors the state is paying, for what and at what time.  Providing this information, down to individual checks cut by the state, will lead not only to a more informed public but a more efficient and accountable government.

 The budget transparency language, which was derived from underlying legislation I filed in January 2009, is the latest measure taken by the legislature to improve Massachusetts’ commitment to the free access of information through public records and open meetings.  On July 1, language reforming the open meeting law will take effect.  This language was included in the campaign finance, ethics and lobbying reform bill of 2009 and based on legislation I filed after extensive negotiations with the attorney general, Common Cause and other interested parties during the last legislative session.  Further, I continue to advance similar legislation to reform and toughen the public records law that allows residents to obtain copies of government documents.

Still, passage of the present rule merits a spotlight all to itself.  Opening easy access to the state’s spending and tax credit information will promote civic engagement, establish public trust in government, and increase government’s responsiveness to the people paying for the “privileges of membership in an organized society.”

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