Open(ish) Erie

by Tim Hoefer |  | NY Torch

spotlight-thumb(1)It’s a simple concept: governments collect tax dollars from citizens, and citizens have a right to know how those dollars are spent.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw gets it. As he recently told Time Warner Cable News, “It’s the people’s money.”

Living up that sentiment, Mychajiliw has just begun to¬†post the County’s checkbook online.

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It isn’t a perfect system. Three key shortcomings:

  • The checkbook is posted in “pdf” format–the digital equivalent of a printed list of payees, in alphabetical order–which means the data cannot be sorted and tabulated. Note to the comptroller: if you can generate a pdf file, you can just as easily generate a spreadsheet or universally readable “csv” file, as well.
  • Payroll data (already posted on our SeeThroughNY) are excluded, which isn’t a small deal because payroll accounts for the largest single share of government budgets.
  • While the list identifies the payee, the amount paid and date (presumably) of payment, there is no further explanation or memo line, so it’s not always clear what each payment was for.

Even so, proactively disclosing this information is commendable. A move that gives citizens more insight into how their tax dollars are spent and allows them to ask more informed questions about their government.

This is a good first step towards broader and more comprehensive proactive disclosure.

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- Tim Hoefer is the Executive Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.