Apr 272011

By Tammy Gray Searles —

A new state law will help make government spending at the local level more transparent.

The bill, which was sponsored by Representative Brenda Barton, R-Safford, and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, will require government agencies to post detailed financial information on their official websites. All transactions, including both revenues and expenditures, that are over $5,000 must be included as part of the comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFR) that must be posted.

“Information that must be posted includes: Payments by individual budget units and programs; payments by individual vendors that include the total amount of state funding awarded by all budget units to individual vendors; and information yielded by a search of the database and electronic versions of contracts that relate to expenditures,” noted state House of Representatives Communications Specialist Paul Boyer.

Government agencies have until January 2013 to make the information available online.

Expenditures and revenues are already a matter of public record, but are not presently required to be posted for public viewing as they are under the new law.

“This information is out there, but it’s hard to find,” Barton noted. “Before this bill was signed into law, an interested taxpayer would have to drive down to their city hall or county seat to get this information. However, this information should be right on the city, town or DOA’s (Department of Administration) website for the convenience of that taxpayer. This bill is taxpayer friendly, and I’m proud to have sponsored such good legislation.”

The DOA’s role will be to include a link to the financial information in case a local government agency does not have an official website.

Open government advocates have praised the new law for making information that is already public record more accessible to the public. Officials of the Arizona Tax Research Association also noted that it will help hold local governments accountable by ensuring that the amounts they report to the public are consistent with actual revenues and expenditures.

“We use the CAFR reports to benchmark what local governments say they are spending versus what they are actually spending,” Arizona Tax Research Association Executive Director Kevin McCarthy said. “Sometimes local governments exaggerate the cash balance to give the public more comfort with higher spending. This ensures the budget that comes out is a true reflection of what a county or city is actually sitting on.”