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Transparency in gov't spending pushed

Website should detail where Arizona's money goes, groups say

Arizona gets an "F" when it comes to helping taxpayers see where and how their money is being spent, according to a report released Tuesday by an advocacy group.

The Arizona Public Interest Research Group, joined at a news conference by the Goldwater Institute, said government officials can improve that grade with a planned website detailing state receipts and expenditures and a bill that would expand that mandate to local governments.

Diane Brown, Arizona PIRG's executive director, said other states that have developed websites detailing governments' financial dealings save money by reducing wasteful spending and in the process restore the public's confidence.

"Arizona has no comprehensive website for people to see where their money goes," Brown said. "Once they have that information, the hope is that people in Arizona will follow the lead of other states and find ways to be more efficient with state and local government budgets."

A 2008 law requires the Arizona Department of Administration to create a public website by 2011 allowing the public to review in detail state government receipts and expenditures. A bill by Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, would require local governments and school districts to create their own sites by 2012.

Brown said it is important for budget transparency to be expanded to the local level.

"Most people pay more attention to where their money is going in their community," she said. "They feel they can make more of an impact with what's happening at the local level than at the state level."

Montenegro said during the news conference that HB 2282, which has won House approval and is awaiting floor action in the Senate, would make government more accountable.

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"People should see where their money is going," he said.

Montenegro said the expense local governments incur creating such sites would be worth it.

"If you're big enough to take taxpayers' money, then you're big enough to tell them how you're spending it," he said.

Montenegro's bill would apply only to local governments' receipts and expenditures greater than $5,000, but representatives of the two advocacy groups said the requirement is a step in the right direction and could lead to even more transparency later.

Byron Schlomach, an economist with the Goldwater Institute, a group that supports limited government and free enterprise, said in an interview some local governments purport to make detailed information available online but don't provide it in a useful format. For example, he said, expenditures such as expensive dinners and trips to nail salons can be labeled as "professional development."

"We want to know down to the penny where taxpayer money is going," he said.

Some opponents of the bill have said this isn't the time to be spending money on such websites, but Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that's exactly why the sites are needed.

"What a better time to determine where money is going," Pearce said. "If there was ever a time for accountability, it is now."

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Yvonne Gonzalez/Cronkite News Service

Diane Brown, director of the advocacy group Arizona PIRG, discusses a report giving Arizona an “F” when it comes to allowing citizens to review how state and local governments spend tax dollars. Arizona PIRG and the Goldwater Institute teamed up to urge state and local leaders to use online databases to make receipts and expenditures more transparent. Behind Smith are Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista.

Key facts

A 2008 law and a new bill aim to make governments’ financial dealings more accessible to the public:

The law requires the Arizona Department of Administration to create a website by 2012 detailing state government revenues and expenditures.

The bill (HB 2282), sponsored by Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, would require local governments such as cities and towns, community college districts and school districts with 600 or more students to create websites detailing receipts and expenditures greater than $5,000.

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