Testimony before the House Committee on Rules in favor of House Bill 2500 The Taxpayer Transparency Act
February 25, 2009
Chair Roblan and members of the Committee. My name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Portland. Our mission is to promote policies that enhance individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon.
It’s not often that I testify in favor of proposed legislation in this building. More often than not I’m in the minority, arguing against new laws, taxes or regulations.
Today, I’m happy to be here joining with a diverse group of folks asking you to help Oregon join other states and the federal government in making government revenue and expenditures more transparent to your constituents.
Oregon needs one public, easily searchable website listing virtually all state financial information. Even top level financial information is so hard to find here that last year one major candidate for statewide office was under the impression that Oregon’s All Funds Budget was $30 billion in this biennium. In fact, that was the size of the budget in the year 2000. The true number at the time was more than 50 percent higher — $48 billion — but the state makes little effort to help even engaged citizens find out such basic facts.
Even what financial information is available online is often presented in a user-unfriendly format. HB 2500 will go a long way toward remedying this situation.
In these tough financial times, some will say that we can’t afford any cost to make Oregon’s finances more transparent. I suggest three responses to their concerns.
First, the cost to do this in other states has been minimal:
• Texas, South Carolina and Missouri report putting up such websites within existing budgets.
• Oklahoma at first thought it would cost $500,000, but eventually got it done within existing staff time and just an $8,000 software cost.
• Kansas for some reason thought it would cost $40 million, but ended up footing no additional cost.
Second, clearly presenting state financial information can actually save the state money, as it has in Texas and Utah. Oregon might save money through more efficient government administration, fewer and quicker information requests, and fewer instances and earlier discovery of financial fraud.
And third, as Oregonians told Portland pollster Adam Davis over the last year and a half, they hold both government and politicians in very little regard; in fact, the lowest level he’s seen in his three-decade-long career. I believe one of the best ways to change these perceptions is to become more transparent in everything government does. HB 2500 is a great way to start.
Thank you, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.
The audio archive of the hearing is here. The public hearing on this bill begins at 7 minutes, 40 seconds. Steve Buckstein’s testimony (which adds some significant points not in his written testimony) begins at one hour, one minute.