State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
Wisconsin needs to get involved in the Google-government trend, a movement that has tremendous benefits for taxpayers. A quick and easy Internet clearinghouse would throw a laser beam on government spending, the increased focus having great potential for significant savings.
I am in the process of researching this issue and to draft legislation to create a system that’s easy to use and understand that eliminates taxpayer frustration and reduces the perception of abuse. Transparency provides greater disclosure and elevates public participation in their government, making for a better informed citizenry.
Wisconsin needs to do a much better job of taking advantage of the Internet to provide greater transparency. Our state receives only an average grade of using the Internet to inform the public in a new report on government transparency.
A report entitled The State of State Disclosure has been released by the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.
According to a Good Jobs First press release, “The Good Jobs First study evaluates the quantity and quality of state government online disclosure in three categories: economic development subsidies, state procurement contracts and lobbying activities at the state level. It rates each state’s Web sites in the three areas on criteria such as ease of searching (especially for company-specific data), level of detail, scope of coverage and currency of data. Using these criteria, it assigns a score (0 to 100 percent) to the states’ performances in each of the three areas and overall, and translates the percentages into school-style letter grades (A through F).”
Wisconsin got a grade of C+ with a score of 77%, slightly above the national average of a D- at 60%.
In the category of lobbying, Wisconsin with a website produced by the state Ethics Board (http://ethics.state.wi.us/LobbyingRegistrationReports/LobbyingOverview.htm) gets a perfect score of 100%.
The report states, “We rate Wisconsin's as the best lobbying disclosure site in the nation. All of the data we sought are fully disclosed, searchable, hot-linked and current. There are links to the texts of bills lobbied by individuals or principals and to money spent and hours spent lobbying. A "bills lobbied" table includes type of lobbying activity, time and dollar estimates, position taken, and comments. Keyword search by issue produces a list with notes about principal organizations' business interests with links to a list of all bills lobbied. In addition to keyword, the user can search by issue, bill, administrative rule, topic of a not-yet introduced bill or rule, chapter or statue affected by a bill, and by changes in the last ten days. The user can view prior year reports of "greatest lobbying effort" sorted by organization, hours, and dollars. Prior year summaries are available by organization, bill, bill subject and administrative rule. Finally, a user can subscribe to the FOCUS service for daily email updates on any of the searchable terms.”
Wisconsin scores lower in the other two categories.
In contracting, Wisconsin scores 79%. The report says the Wisconsin Bureau of Procurement “provides a list of state contracts that is organized alphabetically by commodity or contractual service. It also provides a copy of the Notice of Intent to Award Contract with vendor name and price list or a copy of the contract with detailed vendor information and pricing. University of Wisconsin System Purchasing contracts, University of Wisconsin-Madison contracts and the City of Milwaukee contracts are listed on separate sites. Users cannot search by vendor name. Wisconsin recently created the "Contract Sunshine" Web site (http://ethics.state.wi.us/contractsunshine/contractsunshineagentlistings.html) that includes links to contract lists for individual agencies for specific periods of time. It does not, however, provide detailed vendor information or copies of contracts.”
Finally, in the category of subsidies, Wisconsin scores only 52%.
On this category, the report states, “The Wisconsin Department of Commerce is required to submit an annual report to the legislature on the performance of Industrial Revenue Bond (IRB) financing. The report must measure the effects of IRB financing on employment in the state, including jobs created by IRB financed projects and relocation of firms receiving IRBs within the state. The Department of Commerce last published such a report (http://commerce.wi.gov/BDdocs/BD-IRB-2003Report_000.pdf) with 2003 data. The report lists data on company name, business activity, bond issuer, volume cap, total project cost, taxable property, new and retained jobs and average wage. The report also includes narratives on each project and details on firms relocating within the state. Although the department's website lists the allocation status of IRB loans awarded in 2007, the new list does not meet the reporting requirements of disclosing jobs and relocation data.”
Here is the data on Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s overall score of 77% is deceiving, bolstered by the outstanding work being done by the Ethics Board. The state is following a national pattern of achieving limited progress when it comes to using the Internet to improve and augment the public’s right to know. Major progress can be made with a user-friendly website that provides comprehensive data on state spending.