Sunday, February 10, 2008

Transparency in Government -- Cost/Benefit Analysis is Needed

The ULCT has had some concern regarding the administrative burden that would accompany the passage of SB38 Transparency in Government Finance in its original form. While Utah’s cities and towns are extremely interested in making budgetary information readily available to the public, they have requested that the legislature move methodically through the process of identifying which budgetary documents will create the awareness that is being sought while also recognizing the burdens that will accompany the process of keeping this information current and useable for the general public. In short, we would encourage a cost/benefit assessment to be conducted to ensure that we are focusing on the information that is being requested without overwhelming the system with information that will be largely unused and administratively difficult to convert and make readily available on a centralized website. System compatibility, redacting costs, conversion costs, administrative time and other factors should all be evaluated to ensure that the value received is compatible with the costs associated.

With that in mind, the ULCT has recommend the following steps toward additional transparency in government finances:

1. Centralize currently available information in one location for public access; require that this information be made available.
a. Current documents include municipal budgets, audits and surveys of finance (most available on State Auditor’s Website).
b. Could also centralize much of the budgetary information that is available on the tax commission website.

2. Create a study group to evaluate information that should be made available. Conduct evaluation in preparation for the 2009 session.
a. Survey state and local governments to determine which budget documents are being frequently requested to ensure that we are focusing on information the public is requesting.
b. Evaluate system sophistication to see how compatibility and document conversion will occur.

3. Run Legislation in 2009 to make information that has been identified by the study group available on the website.

4. Run legislation this year with a delayed effective date of 2010 to allow for the study to occur over 2008 with the information requirement passed in 2009 and final implementation due in 2010.

5. Stagger the implementation of the legislation. In year one (2010) focus on a state agency to “test” the use-ability of the system. In year two (2011), work out any “kinks in the system and move to implement more broadly to state agencies and local governments. (Keep in mind that the budget, audit and survey of finance will be available with the passage of this year’s legislation, and the staggered/delayed effective date will only apply to the additional information that is deemed appropriate by the study committee.

With these steps in place, we feel confident that greater transparency can be accomplished with minimal impact of the governments charged with making this information available.