Commentary

JUDGE’S COMMENTS

Just how transparent is state’s budget?
Frank Summers
Milam County Judge

Transparency is one of the words currently being attached to government activities. Transparency in government or no transparency in government at all levels is repeated in t he med ia on a regular basis. However, just how transparent is government?

First how does one define transparency? Webster’s defines transparency as 1) the quality or state of being transparent, 2) something transparent.

Now t hat leads us to t he definition of transparent and Webster’s defines transparent as 1) having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly. “Seen clearly” are the key words in this definition.

So transparency in government is basically being able to see cle a rly what is goi ng on i n government. There has been a big push by higher government to insure that local government is transparent.

The laws passed by the past legislatures have mandated that cer tain size counties have a website and certain information must be posted on that website. As posting makes it more available it becomes more transparent. Of course that is true only if you have access to the internet.

Now, I am not real sure how the legislature came up with the idea that counties needed to post all their utility bills on line if they had a website, but that is one of the many things required by the state to be posted on a website. Budgets, check registers and other items are required to be posted if the county has an official website.

One of the concerns of many elected of f icials is just how transparent is transparency going to become. In other words how much information defines transparency in government? At the local level, in smaller counties, citizens have easy access to county information. They simply have to ask for it. This holds true for other forms of local government such as cities and school districts.

Does transparency equal to reporting the cost of paper used by an entity, the cost of each ream and how many reams, or the cost of each sheet of paper and how many sheets were actually used by each department? Does it include not only how much gas was used by a commissioner, but also on what road, doing what project and who was driving the vehicle on that date?

I do not intend in any way to make light of the importance of transparency and knowing what is going on in government. Personally, at this point in time, I believe that it is more important a state gover nment w it h an estimated 25 billion dollar deficit be a bit more transparent, than a local government entity with no deficit. Have you looked online for state government budgets or information? You can find some information, but just how valuable is it? I have been looking for several state agency budgets and have had very little success in getting online to obtain a copy that sheds much light on what is really going on in that agency.

Have you seen the governor’s utility bills? How do you access informat ion on his ex pense accounts? What does his office spend on paper each year? Just seems to me that what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Bottom line is that if the state is going to mandate that local government make something more transparent then they should follow their own lead. Lead by example and make the public aware of how state agencies have cut their budgets, and be sure to make the public fully aware of how they are going to balance this one.


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2010-12-23 digital edition



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