Rep. Blair Thoreson has been a real champion when it comes to fighting for government transparency here in North Dakota. Back in the 2009 legislative session Rep. Thoreson introduced and got passed a bill creating an online database of all state government spending (you can see it here). Since then Rep. Thoreson has been trying to get another bill passed to create a database of local government spending (counties, townships, cities, schools, etc.).
He failed in the 2011 session and, today, his bill introduced in the current session was voted down by the House as well. Here’s the floor debate:
Rep. Kim Koppelman accused the Office of Management and Budget of “death by fiscal note” after they calculated that the cost of the database over the next two bienniums would be just over $1.4 million. Maybe that figure is inflated a bit (it’s fair to say that state IT projects are almost always way over budget), but even if it is are we really saying that a database where citizens across the state can search their county, municipal, township and school board budgets isn’t worth $1.4 million over four years?
That’s less than North Dakota State University will spend on flying higher ed officials around in a private airplane over the next four years.
The other argument against the bill, from Democrat Rep. Ben Hanson, is that it would be too confusing and duplicative for local governments to send their budgets into a central location. Even if that were true, and it’s hard to imagine emailing in a spreadsheet or a PDF is prohibitively time consuming, so what? Isn’t transparency worth a little more time and effort?
Apparently not for a majority of our state House members.
What’s really stomach-turning about this is that the groups who have lead the charge against these accountability efforts like the North Dakota Association of Counties, the League of Cities and others, are funded by membership dues paid with our tax dollars. Meaning that these groups used our tax dollars to lobby against transparency for how our tax dollars are spent.
On a related note, North Dakota Democrats are going to be making a lot of noise incoming weeks about a raft of government accountability measures they’ve introduced. It’s going to be hard to believe that they’re really looking for accountability, and not partisan fishing trips, when most of the Democrat House members helped vote down this bill.
Update: I’m having YouTube problems. If the video above isn’t working for you, click here then under the Agenda tab click on HB1256.