Arizona's Openbooks reveals more than just spending
Two years ago, almost $1.5 billion of Arizona's total spending was classified under a category called "Other Miscellaneous Operating." That is, around 5 percent of Arizona's spending was classified into a meaningless category that should never amount to more than a pittance. "Other Miscellaneous Operating" is meaningless to a manager, it's meaningless to a taxpayer, and it's meaningless to a member of the legislature. Last year, another $1.5 billion of spending was classified under "Other Miscellaneous Operating."
So far this year, only $28.4 million in spending is classified under "Other Miscellaneous Operating." It's now suddenly closer to the pittance it should be compared to the state's total spending.
Why the big difference? State comptroller Clark Partridge says state spending is now classified into more meaningful categories, some of them new. What prompted the change? Agency accountants found out their books would be open to the public through a transparency website (openbooks.az.gov) launched in January, a result of legislation championed by the Goldwater Institute.
While this change is wonderful, it does highlight some disturbing questions. How do state managers manage when they don't know how money is being spent? Why didn't they care before the transparency website went live? When they say they need more money, how do they know?
Transparency reveals more than how and where taxpayer money is spent. It also reveals how government operates. The next step is to understand what government agencies really accomplish and get an accurate picture of their performance.
Dr. Byron Schlomach is director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Economic Prosperity.