Texas’ Comptroller Susan Combs has started a new initiative to bring the state’s budget out in the open by launching Open Book Texas. Combs has been dedicated to more transparency in the budget process, earlier this year she launched a searchable database of state spending called Where the Money Goes. The creation of this site taught the agency a lot about making government more efficient.
“Where the Money Goes provides transparency to taxpayers, and we discovered that our emphasis on transparency made our own operations more transparent to us,” Combs said. “We were able to better analyze where and how we were spending money within our agency and where and how we could save.”
Combs’ agency says it has saved $4.8 million and identified an additional $3.8 million in expected cost savings. Some examples of the cost savings at the Comptroller’s office include saving $73,000 by consolidating multiple contracts for toner cartridges and establishing separate post office boxes to receive different types of tax payments, thereby avoiding having to spend $328,000 to buy and maintain a new mail sorter. These savings allow the agency to strengthen core functions without requesting additional funding from the Legislature.
“Now we are moving forward to apply some of those same transparency and ‘buying smart’ strategies that have been successful at our office to take an unprecedented look at Texas government spending,” Combs said. “Our Smart Buy initiative has already begun digging through what state agencies spend annually for goods and services.”
Another part of the site, Texas Transparency Check-up, is dedicated to making local governments more transparent. With this site you can see which local governments have their budgets online, get a step by step guide to make your city more transparent, and share your story on advocating for more information.
The final part of the new site, Single Set of Books, is a planning site for state agencies to standardize the way they report financial information. The goal is to make all the state’s financial books uniform so it will be easier to see what Texas’ financial situation really looks like.
Everything about this project is fantastic. Of course, the next step is to make these sites more interactive and more supportive of citizen input. Financial transparency is one of the easiest and more popular steps that can be made to make citizens feel their money is valued. Budgetary processes should be transparent, everybody pays taxes and that means they are invested in what the state does. So good job Texas for not only making their process more transparent but advocating for more transparency across the state.