Pennsylvania Spending Transparency

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State Information


Budget transparency

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not yet transparent, despite testimony that it should be,[1][2] and pending legislation that would make it so.[3][4] During the 2009 legislative session, Senator Pat Browne sponsored Senate Bill 105, the proposed Taxpayer Transparency Act, which mandates creation of a website with a searchable budget database.[5][6] The Bill is currently under the review of the House.[7]

Despite the absence of a statewide site, there are several places to obtain the line items in the Pennsylvania budget online. As part of the new state Open Records law, the Pennsylvania Treasurer launched a database of state contracts. The Commonwealth Foundation's policy report titled Government on a Diet:Spending Tips 2009 identifies for citizens how the state spends their money on certain projects.

State budget websites and analysis

Main article: Pennsylvania state budget

The Pennsylvania Office of the Budget has a several documents on Governor Rendell's proposed 2009-10 budget, including the line items of his revised Pennsylvania state budget proposal.

The Commonwealth Foundation has made an Excel version of the revised and proposed Pennsylvania budget available online.

For comprehensive look at Pennsylvania state spending (which includes "special funds" and federal funds spent by the state), see the Governor's Executive Budget.

Each of the four legislative caucuses has a budget page with spreadsheets and analysis:

The Commonwealth Foundation has a 2009 report identifying what they view as wasteful spending in the Pennsylvania budget as well as additional analysis of the Pennsylvania budget.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center also offers analysis of Pennsylvania government spending.

Legislation

Legislative Cost Reduction Package includes House Bill's 1056, 1057, 1058, 1059, and 1061 was introduced on March 24th, 2009 by PA State Representative Schroder.:

  • Pennsylvania House Bill 1056 would essentially return Pennsylvania back to a part-time legislature, saving taxpayers $12.8 million.
  • Pennsylvania House Bill 1057 would would achieve additional savings through the elimination of cost of living increases, meritorious raises or other salary increases for members of the General Assembly. Representative Schroder says the wage freeze would save the state as much as $3.5 million this year alone.
  • Pennsylvania House Bill 1058 would annually transfer unspent or uncommitted funding contained in legislative accounts to the state Treasury. These accounts currently contain surpluses of about $200 million.
  • Pennsylvania House Bill 1059 would eliminate discretionary grants, also known as walking around money or WAMs. It is estimated this move would save taxpayers up to $600 million annually.
  • Pennsylvania House Bill 1061 would change the pension system for state legislators who take office after Dec. 1, 2010, to a defined contribution plan. This investment plan would be structured to provide cost savings over the long term for lawmakers.

Support for creation of the database

The National Taxpayers Union supported the passage of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1350 (2007), according to an open letter from May 8, 2008.[10]. SB 105 is the current version of that legislation.

Government tools

The following table is helpful in evaluating the level of transparency provided by a state spending and transparency database:

Criteria for evaluating spending databases
State Database Searchability Grants Contracts Line Item Expenditures Dept/Agency Budgets Public Employee Salary Exemption Level
State Contracts Database
{{{1}}}
N
600px-Red x.png
{{{1}}}
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
Contracts over $5,000[11]
Office of the Budget N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
Y
600px-Yes check.png
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
PDF of the state budget
DCED Investment Tracker Y
600px-Yes check.png
Y
600px-Yes check.png
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
N
600px-Red x.png
DCED Grants only, few details

Limitations and Suggestions

Economic stimulus transparency

  • The Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 designated $787 billion to be spent throughout the U.S. Of that $787 billion stimulus package, it is estimated that 69%, or over $541 billion, will be administered by state governments.[12]
  • Pennsylvania will receive an estimated $16 billion.[13]
  • The economic recovery website to show how legislators and government officials in Pennsylvania are spending Federal funds is available here.

Independent transparency sites

The Commonwealth Foundation has launched a transparency website project that focuses on school board negotiations. More information is available here.

Public employee salary information

External links

References

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