It’s the second open government website state Comptroller Kevin Lembo has launched and it’s the first that allows the public to view — without having to download clunky PDF files — how the state is spending its budget.
The new site called “OpenBudget” allows the public to track to the line item how much money the state is spending in specific areas of the budget. The site allows anyone to take revenues and expenditures and compare them in real time to what had been budgeted. It also includes data from previous years, so users can look back at how much spending or revenue has increased or decreased in certain areas.
“It’s been a priority of mine since I’ve arrived here to open the state’s books in a more comprehensive way,” Lembo said. “To make sure data was available to policymakers, the media, academics, and others so they can make their own determinations about where we are and where we should be going.”
OpenBudget, like “Open Connecticut”, allows users to export the data and perform their own analysis on it. Lembo launched Open Connecticut in 2013 and upgraded it in 2014. The information available on the “Open Connecticut” through a function called “Open Checkbook” is updated nightly and it allows users to see how much the state is spending on a specific vendor.
OpenBudget is different from the OpenCheckbook feature in that it allows the user to see spending trends in comparison to budgeted amounts. While OpenCheckbook is designed to show the user the fine detail of individual payments made by the state, OpenBudget allows the user to better understand expenditures in the context of the state budget, Lembo said. How much have we spent in comparison to what was appropriated? How is that trending over time?
He said OpenBudget will be updated on a monthly basis.
It allows users to review how state spending is tracking against budgeted amounts and to track revenue streams throughout the fiscal year to see, for example, if personal income is growing.
Lembo said he’s not naive enough to believe that if he provides the data it will always lead policymakers to make the right decisions, “but it is core to proper decision making and well-informed decision making.”
Lembo, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government Inc., has made providing the data a priority of his office.
“If we trust the data . . . look at it and allow it to drive our analysis, it will help us chart a path from where we are now to where we want to be,” Lembo said.
But if you provide the data, will they come?
Since the second version of Open Connecticut, which included OpenCheckbook, was launched in 2014 there has been 37,497 page views.
“Yes, we would love to have multiple hits every day on the site,” Lembo said. “But we also understand that sometimes just putting the information out there is enough to grow confidence in the electorate.”
He said the public now knows where to find the information if they want to look for it, even if they decide not to look.
“We really trust that small number of surrogates in the community whether it be the media, academia, or others, to do the work,” Lembo said. “To help inform the residents of the state about where we are.”
He said he would like to see news organizations using the data from the site to report about what they found.
The data for the 2016 state budget signed into law by Malloy late last month will be added to the system in September.