Ohio’s national ranking in government spending transparency soared from 46th in 2014 to 1st this year in a report published by U.S. Public Interest Research Group last week.
OhioCheckbook.com, which was founded last year by Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, earned Ohio the only perfect score out of all U.S. states. It was part of a series of announcements by Ohio’s government during Sunshine Week, a period meant to encourage the discussion about government transparency and open access to information.
“I’m proud to have built OhioCheckbook.com and taken Ohio’s transparency ranking from 46th to 1st in the nation,” Mandel said in a U.S. PIRG press release. “The work U.S. PIRG’s doing on open government is helping set off a national race for transparency. My office was motivated to participate in this race and we will continue to work with U.S. PIRG and others to empower taxpayers to hold public officials accountable.”
The site allows anyone to access the state’s spending information based on different expense types, departments, funds and other categories.
“It takes a lot of data that was technically publicly available but hard for people to sort through and makes it available,” said Jason Hart, Watchdog.org’s Ohio-based national labor reporter. “Their goal is to make this kinda a one-stop shop, not just about state level spending but about local spending.”
However, Hart noted local-level data might be difficult to obtain depending on the amount of help Mandel’s office receives from various counties.
“If he can get the cooperation in getting local level information so that people really can see all that information all in one, it’ll definitely be beneficial not just for reporters but for everyone in Ohio,” Hart said.
In addition to OhioCheckbook.com’s success, a bipartisan group of senators announced an agreement to broadcast upcoming Senate Finance Committee budget hearings.
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said in a statement that he hopes the change will allow more public participation in the legislative process and that if successful, he would “look for other opportunities to expand live, unedited coverage of the Ohio Senate in action.”
Although the move to broadcast the budget hearings doesn’t apply to other committees, Reps. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, and Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, also introduced a bill last week that would expand this requirement to all standing committees in the Ohio House.
Proponents of this bill, House Bill 108, hope to increase government transparency, but Ramos said its introduction into the House last week was completely coincidental.
“I’d love to take credit for the timing, but it just took this long to get all the co-sponsors on board,” Ramos said in a Watchdog.org article.