Budget amendments on transparency issues

One of the areas that I have worked on over recent months is transparency of spending, with a particular focus on House operations. I offered four budget amendments pertaining to these issues.

I’m pleased to report that in an agreement reached last week, the House committed to a relatively strong form of web access to financial information. This access will apply to House and Senate operations and will include purchase orders, a step towards the procurement disclosure that I have sought. Also significant was the inclusion of tax credit transparency.

The agreement included a commitment to further consider some of my particular amendments in the House rules debate in January. This makes sense because they do pertain to the internal operations of the House.

Below appears a press release from MassPIRG:

“Transparency advocates praised last night’s vote by the Massachusetts House of Representatives approving a new level of state budget transparency.

With a unanimous vote, (157-0), the new rules create a state budget website, making transparent much of state spending and revenue sources, for all state agencies, including quasi publics. The website will allow the public, including local officials, businesses, lawmakers, citizens, and others to see where the state is investing our tax dollars.

More controversial but overwhelmingly supported by a vote of 130 to 27, the House included language to provide greater transparency of certain transferable or refundable tax credit programs offered to businesses in the Commonwealth. The language would require agencies that administer these programs to provide the following information starting in 2011: 1) the identity of the recipient of the tax credit; 2) the amount of the credit provided; and 3) the date the credit was issued. This information would be made available on the new state budget and spending website.

According to a recent state by state report, Following the Money, released by MASSPIRG earlier this month, Massachusetts is lagging behind 32 other states in their transparency of detailed spending information. “Passage of this transparency language would move Massachusetts from a lagging state to a leading state,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG.

“With the passage of this amendment, along with the transparency provisions included in the House budget, Massachusetts citizens will have a powerful new lens with which to view their government in action,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “Check-book level detail of state expenditures, including key tax credits, is critical to an informed citizenry.”

“These new rules will go a long way toward rebuilding the public’s confidence in government,” said Yawu Miller, Project Director for One Massachusetts. “People need to be able to see that revenues are being raised in a manner that’s fair and that public resources are being spent in a manner that’s wise.”

“This is a big win for the taxpayers of the Commonwealth! With this provision, Massachusetts will now be on par with the 32 other states that make state budget transparency, accountability, and accessibility an indispensible function of open government,” Representative Jay Kaufman, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Revenue, said. “Public access to the way we raise and spend money is essential, enabling us to make more-informed decisions for the tax-paying constituents who elect us to serve on their behalf. I am thankful to the Speaker, whose enthusiastic support for a more open and transparent government made this victory possible.”

“Since being elected Speaker, I have worked with the members to make the House of Representatives more open and accessible,” Speaker Robert DeLeo said. “From the institution of term limits on the speakership passed in last year’s rules reform legislation, to the amendments passed in this budget debate, the House has shown an ongoing commitment to openness and accountability.”

The groups praised the House for establishing this level of spending transparency.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.