According to a new report by the United States Public Interest Research Group Montana has joined Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, and Wyoming at the bottom of the list for government transparency. This should come as no surprise after Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed H.B 444 a bill sponsored by representative Tom Burnett, that would
“Create a budget database website for taxpayer right to know”
a much needed database that would allow taxpayers to go online and see exactly where their government is spending their tax dollars and how/when they are doing it. But databases are not something the Democrats are very good at handling, just look at Steve Bullock who is in charge of sex offender database, a database that lists sex offenders as living in Walmart parking lots and has thousands of faulty entries.
The only defense comes from Sheryl Olson, deputy director of the Montana Department of Administration, Who says the state of Montana:
“Offers approximately 230 e-government services, allowing citizens to do things like register a vehicle or apply for a fishing license online.”
That’s good the website allows you to purchase goods and services that the government offers a good start but that has almost nothing to do with transparency of government. I can’t look at buying a fishing license or register a vehicle and extrapolate where my tax dollars are going, who they are going to, how they are being spent and on what? Whether or not the government is effective, whether its wasting money or not etc.
Olson went on to say:
“Those services drew 6.4 million visitors last year, a number that indicates Montana is satisfying the public’s desire for online services”
That’s a bold assumption, that because people utilize a service that they are happy with it. That doesn’t make any sense considering what we are talking about. I registered my vehicle online therefore I am happy with the level of transparency of my government. That argument doesn’t make any sense and is completely non responsive to the issue at hand.
Olson concludes by saying
“People are going there, using the information we provide them,”
“I think we’re doing an extraordinary job in providing Montana citizens the e-government services they want.”
Another bold argument considering 83 legislators, thousands of Montanan’s and several independent research groups disagree. Although Olsen did attempt to back up her assumptions, later in the article by citing the Sunshine Review’s report on governmental transparency, which gave Montanan a B overall.
Which isn’t as good as she makes it sound. Much of the Sunshine Review Report are things that you would EXPECT government to do, things like:
- “Elected officials are listed with contact information”
- “An agency phone directory is posted”
- An employee directory is posted.
I’m not sure that we should be overly proud of a B on a report that grades based on things like contact information something almost every website has. We should be grading our transparency on whether or not we as citizens can go onto a website and know exactly that our government is doing, which the majority of the Sunshine Review report has nothing to do with. Something that Republican lawmakers have been trying to do, and the Democrats have been fighting for years.