At home, keeping up with the checkbook is one of the most important means to making sure that your finances are in order. What if you could use that same means of tracking to make sure that state officials are keeping Louisiana’s finances in order?
Citizens in Louisiana may have that option. The State Legislature will take up a bill that would create the “Louisiana Checkbook,” a website that tracks government spending.
Stephen Waguespack, President and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), pitched the merits of the website to members of One Acadiana Tuesday morning at the Cecil Picard Center in Lafayette. One Acadiana, formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, invited Waguespack to speak about legislative issues and how those issues affect businesses. Waguespack said that while it will not fix the state’s financial issues by itself, the Checkbook will provide the transparency sought by so many. The site is modeled after the Ohio Checkbook.
“It is a transparency initiative,” Waguespack said. “I have been pushing hard for this. Ohio started this several years ago. Now there are about 1,000 entities at the state and local level on the site. You can go to the website, and within a couple of clicks, you can fi nd detailed information on where your money is being spent, stored and for what contracts.
“You can find out who is getting your money.” This allows people to make their own determinations based on numbers.
“You may hear something on the news that there is no where else to cut in the Department of Health or Medicaid,” Waguespack said. “Then you will tell yourself that you don’t know what to believe. Both sides could be saying different things. I say, ignore them both and do your own research if you have the right tool.
“I say get to the point where you all become citizen auditors.” In that regard, the site will not be filled with spread sheets that no one understands, Waguespack stressed. He provided an example of how easy and detailed the Ohio site is. “A couple weeks ago I went to the Ohio site found this little town,” he explained. “Within a couple of clicks, I found a check they wrote to the pool supply company for the chemicals for their public pool. Now, I don’t really care what they are paying for chemicals, but imagine that level of granular detail within three clicks.”
The process fits right into the day-to-day lives of most citizens, too.
“With the way technology is today,” Waguespack said, “you are all used to having everything on your phone. This brings government accountability to your phone.”
One Acadiana is one of the organizations, along with LABI, that is part of the coalition that supports the creation of the Louisiana Checkbook. Jim Bourgeois, interim President and CEO of One Acadiana, said during Tuesday’s event that the group has been focused on transparency on all levels of government.
“I think this (Checkbook) is a great step,” Bourgeois said. Bourgeois, who led Tuesday’s event, asked Waguespack what is the best-case scenario for the website, as both acknowledged that this would not be a quick fix to the state’s financial issues.
“I think once you have the information out there,” Waguespack said, “you can start to have an honest discussion. When you’re presented the budget, there’s a lot of pressure to just rubber stamp what you are being told about it. The last three years, we have a (state operating) budget that has gone from around $26 billion to $30 billion. That is pretty large spending growth. We’re told that it looks like a lot of money, but it’s actually not enough, and you don’t know how to take that. Checkbook.com will allow you to pull some of the layers back and have some logical budget debates. It may show that money is being spent efficiently, it may not.
“If it’s not, we need to demand better performance from our government.”