Empowering Ohio Taxpayers Through Increased Transparency

When government is big, the people are small. But when government is small, the people are big. As someone who sees his boss as the 11.5 million people of Ohio, I am all about power to the people.

As treasurer of Ohio, I hold the basic belief that taxpayers have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent. All too often, though, we the people aren’t able to follow our money once we write a check to city hall, the state capital or Washington, D.C.

By shining sunlight on spending decisions made deep in the bowels of the state bureaucracy, citizens are able to follow their money and play an active role in helping to root out waste, fraud and abuse.

So this past December, I launched OhioCheckbook.com. For the first time in our state’s history, every state expenditure is available for public examination online. Some $408 billion of state spending over the past seven fiscal years is now at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection — from $2 for a pack of pencils to $2 million for road expenditures, and everything in between.

When we were building OhioCheckbook.com, we understood that this information would only be useful if it was easy to navigate and use. You shouldn’t need to be a CPA or a computer expert to understand how your money is being spent.

“With this tool citizens can follow their money and play an active role in helping to root out waste, fraud and abuse”

OhioCheckbook.com is a user-friendly, cutting-edge website that breaks the mold of a hard-to-navigate government data-dump site. Simply type in what interests you in the Google-style search engine and you can instantly drill down with fully interactive charts, graphics and compare tools. You can share your discoveries on social media. With one click, your Facebook friends and email contacts will see what you see.

OhioCheckbook.com has received overwhelming bipartisan support from taxpayers, newspapers and good government groups across the state and country. The site recently earned Ohio the number one transparency ranking in the nation by the nonpartisan U.S. Public Interest Research Group. As a direct result of OhioCheckbook.com, we boosted Ohio’s government transparency ranking from 46th to first in the nation.

We’ve made great strides toward more open government, but we’re only just getting started. Now, my goal is to build upon what we have done at the state level and spread the same kind of transparency to every city, county, school district, township, village, library, sewer district, water district and other districts across Ohio.

I recently sent a letter to every local government and school official representing 3,962 local governments throughout the state, inviting them to place their checkbook level data on OhioCheckbook.com. I offered this invitation at no cost to local governments or school districts. If they send my office their spending information in a useable format, we’ll get it posted online for you to see it.

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Since that invitation, hundreds of local officials across Ohio have expressed interest in becoming early adopters. They’ve chosen to be leaders, rather than followers.

While taxpayers care about what their state and federal governments are doing, the governments in which they are typically most involved are closest to them — like their city, township, school or library. These are the local governments that are helping to provide safe streets, services for seniors and a positive learning environment for our kids.

My hope is that local governments will join me in this mission of creating a more open and transparent government and post their checkbooks online.

My goal is to set off a race for greater transparency across Ohio that will empower taxpayers to hold public officials accountable. Remember: It’s your money. You have a right to know how it’s spent.

To learn more please visit OhioCheckbook.com.

Josh Mandel is the Ohio State Treasurer. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshMandelOhio.