Interested taxpayers can now get a fresh look at the state’s checkbook using a nightly-updated database that’s part of a recent overhaul to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s “Open Connecticut” website.
At a Tuesday press conference, Lembo demonstrated the upgraded version of a transparency database his office launched more than a year ago. He acknowledged the improved hub of state fiscal data may not draw heavy internet traffic, but he said transparency is a value for government.
“It doesn’t really matter if no one spends a ton of time on ‘Open Connecticut 2.0.’ The fact that it’s out there, the fact that folks can get to it if they choose, does a couple things. It comforts the residents of the state . . . and it focuses the conversation on real issues and not on the grumpy uncle conversations that often happen at Thanksgiving,” he said.
The updated site includes a searchable “open checkbook,” which draws data from the state’s accounting ledger program called CORE CT. The information on the site should be updated nightly. That means if a state agency pays a vendor, the expense should be reflected on the database within a day. The database is also updated with information on money coming to the state as that data is provided by the Revenue Services Department, Lembo said.
“What’s interesting now about the site, or I think useful, is we can also look at revenue in real time. This site will get updated nightly. The sites that are out there now are a big data dump that happens annually. So it immediately gets sort of old and stale or worse it could be inaccurate,” he said.
The page allows users to filter fiscal data from a number of state accounts and export the information into PDF or Excel files. It also graphs data from various state accounts for a visual representation and comparison.
Lembo said his office will be working to add more features to the site in the near future including information on salaries, contracts, and grants.
“At the end of the day, the numbers are really a reflection of our priorities, not our press releases or our public pronouncements. In short, if we don’t fund it or you can’t see it, it really wasn’t a priority,” he said. “This will help us cut through some of that.”
Lembo said his office used existing resources to update the website, meaning it did not cost the state much beyond the time it took employees to make the changes.
“There was no big spend on this,” he said.
ConnPIRG Education Fund Director Abe Scarr released a statement praising the upgrade as step in the right direction which builds on other recent steps the state has taken which allow for greater public scrutiny.
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government. It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible,” he said.
Scarr said Connecticut still needs to work on increasing transparency when it comes to tax credits.
In an annual report card published in April, ConnPIRG gave Connecticut a “B” a for transparency in government spending, according to an annual report card grading the 50 states in online access to data on where taxpayer dollars are spent. It was a step up from the “C+” the group gave the state the previous year.