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Sunshine States

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When Congress passed and the president signed into law the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (two years ago this month) they started a trend that has swept well beyond Washington. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), state legislatures are starting to emulate the new federal law that requires access through a free and searchable Web site to details on all federal spending.

Since 2007, 11 states (Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington) have established, via legislation or executive order, free and searchable Web sites that give access to state spending. And 24 other states are working on it, with more than half introducing spending transparency bills this year. B2G Exchange blog wrote in May that transparency Web sites were the "hottest new trend" in state government. SunshineReview.org is a good place to monitor progress of government transparency at the state and local level.

Kansas was the first to establish a transparency Web site by passing the Kansas Taxpayer Transparency Act in July 2007, and launching KanView on February 29th of this year. The site is expected to cost about $40 million but it is estimated that it will generate $1 billion in savings. The champion of the new site, State Rep. Kasha Kelley of Arkansas City, Kan., has since become something of a traveling evangelist for government transparency. National and regional organizations, such as NCSL, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Illinois Policy Institute, have invited Kelley to make presentations at their meetings and conferences. The federal Office of Management and Budget invited her to attend the unveiling of USAspending.gov, the federal transparency site. Because of Kelley's transparency work, the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform named her a "Friend of the Taxpayer."

And last month, the Columbus, Ohio, -based Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a nonpartisan think tank devoted to small government in the state, launched its Center for Transparent and Accountable Government. The center says it will be collecting and posting online state and local government budgets, employee contracts, public records policies and other information. "Transparency and open government crosses ideologies and is equally supported, and equally opposed, by both major political parties," said Mike Maurer, the center's new director, a former statehouse reporter. He also said that Ohioans deserve the same type of transparency from their state and local governments that USAspending.gov provides at the federal level. In conjunction with its launch, the center issued a white paper gauging Ohio's current level of openness, finding that the state "is behind its peers in government transparency." They are asking candidates running for state office to take a transparency pledge. And they've set up OhioSunshine.org, an open government wiki. "The legitimacy of Ohio government rests on the consent of the governed, but that consent doesn't mean much when so much of government occurs hidden, or deeply buried," Hansen said. "Twenty-First Century information technology should be applied to draw back the curtain that stands between government and the people."

Amen to that.

The explosion of open government activism in the states is a very encouraging legacy of the 2006 transparency act.