Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211
04/07/2009 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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SB 2-PUBLIC FINANCE WEBSITE 9:05:07 AM CHAIR MENARD announced the consideration of SB 2. SHELLY MORGAN, Staff to Senator Bill Wielechowski, Alaska State Legislature, said SB 2 is identical to SB 201 of 2008, which passed unanimously through the Senate last year. The intent is to mandate the creation of a free searchable website to provide Alaskans with easy access to detailed information on state spending. It will foster better understanding of state operations and insure that funding goes to the state's most important needs. Similar websites are being created across the country. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act become law in 2006 and calls for a searchable website for federal contracts and grants of more than $25,000. Since 2007, 13 states have passed legislation, 8 have passed executive orders, and dozens of others have launched state spending websites. A national consensus is emerging that taxpayers should be able to track government spending, and it is advocated by both ends of the political spectrum. Accountability and good decision making requires an informed public. Alaska has a checkbook online that is a great step in providing transparency. It has about 90 hits per day. Most come from new visitors. SB 2 will provide for more of a big picture for the layperson. Alaskans will be able to track trends over a ten-year span. Annual revenue and expenditures will be summarized by source, function, department, and account. Individuals can then pull up more detailed information. Revenues will be updated monthly to include proceeds from taxes, agency earnings, interest, lease payments, gifts, donations, and federal receipts. Expenditures will include name, location, and amount dispersed. SB 2 also requires an accounting of the total number of state employees, which can be done with a simple bar chart. The website will be presented in a clear manner that every Alaskan can understand. The fiscal note is zero. It can be done by existing staff. Alaskans have a right to see how their dollars are spent. 9:10:48 AM CHAIR MENARD asked if the administration is supportive. SCOT AREHART, Data Processing Manager, Division of Finance, Department of Administration (DOA), said DOA supports the bill. SENATOR FRENCH asked if the checkbook is now online and what the bill will add. MR. AREHART said the majority of what is covered in this bill is already online. The bill will add full-time employees. "Currently we're underway in a project to get all of AKPAY [state payroll system] data into the ALDER [Alaska Data Enterprise Reporting] warehouse. The ALDER data warehouse feeds the current financial portion that's covered in this bill." 9:12:33 AM MS. MORGAN said this bill will go into statute so future governors will have to do the same thing. CHAIR MENARD said this is a lofty goal, and she can't imagine a zero fiscal note. Someone has to do the work, and there is a hiring freeze in Alaska. SENATOR MEYER asked if additional security is required to protect the website from hackers. MR. AREHART said no; no confidential information will appear. All of it is fed through the data warehouse. 9:14:35 AM MEADE TREADWELL, Senior Fellow, Institute of the North, Anchorage, said he is a member of Alaskans for Tax Reform. He has phoned leaders from other states. He applauds the administration for putting the checkbook online and Senator Wielechowski for sponsoring SB 2. This is good government, and he is not worried about the costs. Improvements will be called for by the public. He recommended a process for evolving the website, like an annual hearing by the legislature. When a governor submits a budget, it would be useful to have it in the same kind of format. The bill is important. 9:17:00 AM SANDRA FABRY, Government Affairs Manager, Americans for Tax Reform, Washington DC, said she has submitted a letter to the committee. She appreciates the efforts of the governor and the DOA. It is important to codify the language. It is a buzzword now, but by having it in statute will make sure that taxpayers will have this tool to hold government more accountable in the future. Many states are putting it into statute. Alaska already has the online checkbook, so costs can be kept to a minimum. The more complex the website, the more likely it will contribute to saving money. States are saving millions of dollars by having this inventory at their disposal. Texas has already saved $8.7 million in the first year. South Carolina is getting fewer [costly] freedom-of-information requests. MS. FABRY recommended providing a link to the actual expenditure document under which an expense is made. Alaska was one of the first states to increase transparency in government spending, but other states are quickly catching up. By passing SB 2, Alaska will continue to be at the forefront. 9:20:29 AM SENATOR FRENCH moved to report SB 2 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the bill moved out of committee.