Follow the Money

Lawmaker wants Jersey financial info on Web

Sunday, Dec 28, 2008  |  Updated 11:30 AM EDT
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Follow the Money

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Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. is co-sponsor of a proposal to put New Jersey's financial data on the Web for taxpayers to see.

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One Republican lawmaker wants to make it easier for taxpayers to follow the money -- and he's got some big muscle behind him.
 
Sen. Joe Pennacchio is sponsoring a proposal to create an easy-to-use Web site allowing New Jerseyans to view the state's revenues, expenditures and debt. Pennacchio said the measure would make government more transparent and deflect public cynicism.

  "Whenever the state spends one dime of taxpayer money, it has to put it on a user-friendly Web site," said Pennacchio, of Morris Plains. "That way everybody can see where their money is being spent. It's bringing transparency into the 21st century, making it easier for taxpayers to see how that money is being spent."
 
The Treasury Department has some of the information on its Web site. And, for the past two years, it has published an online "Citizens Guide to the Budget." However, revenues and expenditures are not detailed or updated in real time on the state-sponsored Web site.
 
Pennacchio introduced the Transparency in Government Act more than a year ago in the Assembly, and again in January when he moved over to the Senate. The bill has not moved out of committee in either house, in part because Pennacchio is a member of the minority party.
 
Grover Norquist, president of American for Tax Reform, a coalition of taxpayer groups, said other states have passed the act with bipartisan support.
 
About a dozen states including Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri have similar Web sites, created either by law or executive order of the governor. New Jersey's proposal is modeled after the Kansas version of the law.
 
"This is a prophylactic, it stops bad stuff from happening," said Norquist, who was in New Jersey recently to lobby for the proposal.
 
For example, he said one government expense in Missouri -- for lingerie -- disappeared when the Web site was created. The Texas comptroller said the site helped save $2.3 million, in part by combining duplicate services.
 
"The idea of transparency," Norquist said, is "taking information that is legally public information, and putting it out in a way people can actually get to it. If you just put it out without a search engine, it's like handing someone a 1,000-page book and telling them there's cool stuff inside if they can find it and if they have 20 hours to go look through it."
 
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. is a co-sponsor of the proposal.
 
"With a growing budget deficit, New Jersey needs commonsense solutions to get more value out of every dollar spent and insure accountability from Trenton," said Kean, of Westfield.
 
Though some say creating a new Web site isn't cost efficient, Norquist said Missouri did it without spending any money by using existing resources and software. That site has gotten 13 million hits, he said.
 
Ralph Nader, an internationally known clean government advocate, has sent letters to all 50 governors supporting the measure.
 
In Norquist's opinion, "This really separates the people who want clean government from the people who are not displeased with less than clean government."

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