If you ever asked the question, “Where do my tax dollars go?” John Liu has an answer for you.
New York City Comptroller Liu today announced the launch of Checkbook NYC, a website with a interactive section that will let New Yorkers peek into where exactly the city’s $35 billion budget which passed on June 29th is spent.
The comptroller describes the website as a tool that residents can use to get involved in how their tax dollars are spent. Checkbook NYC is part of Comptroller Liu's broader "My Money NYC" transparency initiative that seeks to open up government to New Yorkers.
"The more information we make available to the public, the more built-in incentives all of us in city government have to save taxpayers money, which has really become more important than ever before," said Liu.
Checkbook NYC was first proposed on March 18 with an aggressive launch date of July 1st, to coincide with the beginning of the city’s Fiscal Year.
The website is marketed as one of the most comprehensive initiatives of its kind in the nation.
"It's about open government," Comptroller Liu told NBCNewYork, "It's about creating an intrinsic accountability which would save the taxpayer money.”
The site, still in its beta stage, will be updated daily and uses the City's Financial Management System to identify and chronicle all city expenditures. Liu markets Checkbook NYC as an easy-to-use online database allowing users to search and download by agency, vendor/payee name, purpose and amount.
The comptroller worked with city agencies like the New York City Police Department, the Department of Investigation, the District Attorneys' Offices, as well as certain payments made to individuals and employees for health and social services, to ensure that sensitive materials such as names and other private information would not included.
Users of the site can even submit ideas for audits to save the city money, increase revenue and improve the efficiency of agencies. It also fulfilled an initiative started by former Comptroller Bill Thompson that allows users to search for City contracts registered with the Comptroller’s Office.
To top it all off the website will feature a Frequently Asked Questions section staffed with a dedicated team within the Comptroller office to update and correct any detectable glitches while in beta testing.
Veteran Council member Gale Brewer lauded the establishing of the site. Brewer, is the Chairperson of the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations, and released a press release which stated, "It is fitting that as we celebrate our freedom on this 4th of July that a new era of openness has arrived, and as of today every person interested in policy and every skeptical New Yorker can answer the age-old question: What are they doing with my money?”
The Citizens Union Director of Public Policy & Advocacy Alex Camarda, noted “Never before has a city created something that lets people see how their money is spent in virtual real time.”
Camarda also noted that the New York State Comptroller has a similar site, but that information is aggregated every month.
“It is a tool that lets reporters, citizens, and officials, to look at spending and start to ask questions and hopefully cause agencies to monitor or change the way they spend their money,” said Camarda.
“We are driving the freight train of accountability. Almost immediately, this level of heightened transparency compels more judicious expenditures of taxpayer money," Comptroller Liu said.