Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Goldwater Institute: Hide and Seek

Tracking government spending is no child's play

By Tom Patterson

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a leading anti-tax activist. Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and a confirmed lefty. The two don't agree on much, but they are joining forces in support of a cause quickly gaining traction around the country: transparency, the notion that citizens are entitled to know how government spends their money.

In the old days of paper, pen and typewriters, there were legitimate obstacles to widespread data-sharing. It was cumbersome to reproduce and transmit information on a mass scale. But a funny thing didn't happen after the information technology revolution. Government remains about as opaque as ever.

Transparency means simply that state budgets, contracts and individual expenditures are made available to the public on the Internet. Sure, there are a few things that should be kept secret for security reasons or to protect citizens' privacy. But government spending is kept hidden from public view because - well, just because.

At least 20 states tried this year to help citizens see how their money is being spent. Unfortunately, Arizona wasn't one of them.

Why is transparency suddenly the "next big thing" in government? As Norquist points out, the action is at the state level, where partisan bickering is less intense than in Washington. Moreover, since most of the data is public information, legislation is usually not required to make it more available.

We know that it can be done. It just takes leaders who understand that our government belongs to the people, not government officials.

Dr. Tom Patterson is chairman of the Goldwater Institute, a former state legislator and emergency room physician. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the East Valley Tribune.

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