Friday, May 18, 2018

Stitt: spending transparency can prevent future spending fiascos


Stitt: Put Oklahoma’s Checkbook Online to End Budget Crisis, Prevent Another Health Department Fiasco

Thanks to an audit, the $30 million once lost by the Oklahoma Department of Health is now found again. It is impossible to comprehend how agency heads could be this disconnected from their budget, but there is a simple, cost effective solution to help it not happen again. It’s time we put Oklahoma’s checkbook online. 

On Oklahoma’s current state website, it displays in big bold font that state government spent $30.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2017, yet the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report says Oklahoma spent $17 billion, a number nearly half the size. What are Oklahomans to believe? Who has the right story?

Oklahoma politicians have promised for years to bring transparency and accountability to the state budget, yet they have failed to give taxpayers even the simplest, most cost-efficient tool to deliver their promise – the Internet.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a report in April giving our state’s current website for the budget a “D+” in “online spending transparency.” Only nine states scored worse. PIRG notes that Oklahoma’s website has a search function that none of the researchers could get to work. This is not transparency; this is politics as usual.

The only way to clean up Oklahoma’s financial mess is to put Oklahoma’s checkbook online so taxpayers know where every dime is spent. Fixing Oklahoma’s budget nightmare starts with rooting out government waste through accountability and transparency.

Ohio’s and West Virginia’s online checkbooks scored an A+. With just a couple clicks, a person can view individual agencies’ small payments to office supply stores and large payments like utility bills.

Meanwhile on Oklahoma’s website, a homepage button titled “Where does the state spend its money?” takes the user first to a budget from Fiscal Year 2010.

As a business person, I know how important it is to hold agency heads accountable for every dollar they oversee. At my company, we have a saying that if a department’s expense costs more than a ham sandwich then that department leader must clearly justify it to the rest of the company.  I’ll bring this same common-sense practice to state government by first auditing and then applying performance metrics to every state agency. 

In government, Oklahomans deserve the same accountability, whether it is a $5 purchase at the Health Department or a $10 million project at the Transportation Department. Taxpayers should be able to see how their hard-earned dollars are being used today, not months or years later. It should be as simple as looking at a personal checkbook at home, while answering the big questions about the state’s finances.

Oklahomans are tired of coming in last place in the categories where it counts. I believe Oklahoma’s turnaround starts by making our state Top Ten in budget transparency and accountability. It’s the only way to prevent another crisis as seen at the Health Department, where nearly 200 Oklahomans were laid off and essential services were impacted. The fix is easy, affordable, and long overdue.

Kevin Stitt is a Republican candidate for Governor and CEO and founder of Gateway Mortgage Group, an Oklahoma business with 164 field offices nationwide.

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