HELENA – The online version of the state’s checkbook, announced by Gov. Steve Bullock in his State of the State address this week, was up and running Thursday.
For the first time, Montanans now can go online to see how state money is being spent. State employees’ salaries also are available there. It can be found at transparency.mt.gov.
“Montana taxpayers want to make sure we’re spending their money wisely, and I’ll insist that the state never spends more that it takes in,” Bullock said in announcing the site.
Republicans, and some Democrats, have been pressing for such a site for years. Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer opposed the idea because of the costs, vetoing a bill in 2011 by then-Rep. Tom Burnett, R-Bozeman.
The state Department of Administration began a project six months ago looking at ways to present this information in different ways, under the Schweitzer administration.
When Bullock took office in early January, he gave the online project the green light, spokeswoman Judy Beck said. He decided to highlight it in his State of the State address, so the site had to go live Thursday.
The database won praise from Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, which had been pushing the state to create online sites showing both expenses and salaries. His group successfully sued the state over the salary information during the Schweitzer administration and put the pay information on its website.
“This is wonderful news,” Graham said. “It’s something we’ve been hoping for for a long time, and I congratulate the governor for making the right decision.“
Beck said the Department of Administration built the database within its existing budget with current personnel.
She said this isn’t the costly “data warehouse” that would have had to be purchased under some past legislative proposals.
“This is putting the checking online,” Beck said.
The database is a beginning. Beck said it will be updated and improved over time, and more features can be added.
Online users can search the payments made through the state’s accounting system in three ways: by department, category or payee, which is the person or company receiving the payment.
For example, searching the database would allow someone to track state expenses such as utility and postage costs, supplies such as ammunition or gasoline, or services such as fire suppressors.
Users also can find state employees’ hourly salaries and sort them within agencies. The database doesn’t include employees of state colleges and universities, which have a separate payroll system than the rest of state government.
Graham said 45 other states have “some sort of transparency portal,” with the amount of information they provide varying.
Bullock is “putting our salary database out of business, and I’m very happy with that,” Graham said.
Bullock praised the legislators who had worked on the issue.
“Transparency and openness should never be partisan, and I look forward to working with the Legislature to provide a more effective government for Montana taxpayers,” Bullock said.
Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or at email@example.com.