From time to time I am asked to speak to various groups regarding the state budget process. I always encourage the audience to become knowledgeable in matters of state government finance and direct them to a plethora of tools online that will give the public far more knowledge of state finance than that possessed by many state legislators who are voting on the budget.
I am always excited when a member of the constituency contacts me with questions after researching one of these tools.
Here are some of the most useful online tools to which I refer the audience:
You may examine the past 21 years of financial statements by visiting the state finance agency’s website which I have linked to hd31.org/791. The financial statements provide breakdowns of incomes, spending, assets and debt.
Using these statements you can answer questions such as:
How much of the state’s budget is money from the federal government?
How much does the state spend on education?
Did the Legislature’s massive fee increase result in more revenue or did it actually result in less revenue to the state?
How much debt does the state have and is it increasing or decreasing?
These statements also provide a much bigger picture of state spending than is commonly reported in the media. For example, readers of the financial statements will see all of state spending instead of just the “state appropriations” that are mostly talked about in news stories.
Appropriations only make up about 40% of total spend and it is entirely possible that government spending actually goes up in a year when appropriations go down. It’s the financial statements that will document this anomaly and provide far more insight into state finances than can be obtained through commonly reported news of the day.
The data.ok.gov web portal allows taxpayers to inspect government records such as employee payroll, expenditures placed onto state purchase cards, and actual spending by state agencies. The site hosts thousands of datasets.
One dataset allows the reader to view property owned by various state agencies. This is a basic level of accountability and it may seem like common sense, but in state government common sense can’t be taken for granted. I remember one occasion when a state employee was accused of theft after surveillance footage showed him taking equipment to his vehicle. He couldn’t be convicted because the state inventory records couldn’t prove that the equipment was actually ever owned by the state.
Transparency tools like this haven’t just improved the integrity of the state inventory, they have also placed it online for all to see, along with the value of each item.
Would you like to see how your school district spends your money? The education spending transparency portal allows you to view detailed accounting for each school district. Taxpayers can compare their school districts to similarly sized districts to see which is most efficient. Visit hd31.org/352 to see this portal. Here you can see how your local public school district is spending their budget.
Documents.ok.gov, operated by the Department of Libraries, provides access to thousands of government documents. Each year, state government produces hundreds of reports. This site is supposed to list these reports in one place where they can be viewed by taxpayers instead of just collecting dust on a shelf.
Finally, it’s important to note that the deployment of these accountability tools were the work of transparency-minded policy makers over the past few years, dating back to the Keating administration and their efforts to centralize and modernize state finance.
These efforts not only made it possible for state leaders to understand the complexity of the state’s finances but they have also now made it possible for every member of the public to have real and meaningful oversight.
I hope that you will put them to use.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.