Interested Party Testimony Submitted to the Ohio House Finance Committee on House Bill 130Apr 20, 2016
By Greg R. Lawson
Thank you Chairman Smith, Vice Chair Schuring, and Ranking Member Driehaus for the opportunity to testify before the Ohio House Finance Committee. My name is Greg R. Lawson. I am the Statehouse Liaison at The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
I am here with a few brief remarks regarding House Bill 130, the DataOhio Project. I have previously testified about “DataOhio” and the need for government transparency. I appreciate the chance to revisit the issue today.
The Buckeye Institute has long championed a more transparent government that makes it easier for taxpayers to see and understand how Columbus spends their hard-earned money. Such transparency helps citizens better understand what their government has done, what it is doing, and what remains to be done with their tax dollars. Fiscal transparency helps keep government accountable to the citizenry, fosters a more informed public, and facilitates a better dialogue between the people and their elected representatives.
Recognizing the need for and challenges of providing more fiscal transparency, The Buckeye Institute developed its own searchable database for tracking state spending on salaries for state employees, K-12 teachers, 4-year Higher Education, and select local government employees. Since the database went live in April 2010, it has been searched nearly 13.5 million times. Of course, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and The Buckeye Institute’s database proved so popular and useful that other private sector organizations, and Ohio’s Treasurer of State, now offer similar online services.
Despite its popularity and usefulness, The Buckeye Institute’s database is not a comprehensive toolkit. For example, it does not publish information on vendor payments made by localities, and the local component that lists local government salaries remains quite limited. The State Treasurer’s office, however, has expanded the state’s Ohio Checkbook database so that it now not only offers a similar suite of services, but also provides a full accounting of state expenditures down to the check, and includes Ohio’s many local governments. The Treasurer’s expansion of Ohio Checkbook has helped to increase transparency dramatically, and just last week the U.S. Public Interest Research Group declared Ohio the most transparent state in the union thanks to Mr. Mandel’s efforts. But, as always, there remains room for improvement.
For example, Ohio boasts thousands of local governmental bodies and a labyrinth of taxing authorities. As The Buckeye Institute outlined several years ago:
As of October 2007, Ohio ranked seventh among states regarding the number of local governmental entities and taxing authorities according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with a staggering 3,702 entities. On average there are over 41 taxing authorities per county, which is 46 percent more than the national average of twenty-eight.
Ohio had the sixth highest number of municipalities (938) and townships (1,308). There are 614 school districts as well as a myriad of law enforcement and safety entities along with special district governments. Cuyahoga County alone has 104 local government entities.
Without fiscal transparency for Ohio’s local governments, taxpayers remain largely in the dark without ready access to vital information needed for holding their elected officials accountable. The DataOhio Project can further promote transparency by developing a standard chart of accounts so that citizens and policymakers can make apples-to-apples comparisons of spending across these diverse local governments. This would help constituents and even lawmakers make better sense of how our local governments operate—an increasingly important issue as the General Assembly debates the adequacy of local government resources.
DataOhio, Ohio Checkbook, and similar efforts by The Buckeye Institute and other private sector organizations can all work together as complementary tools for the common, important purpose of empowering Ohio’s taxpayers to raise accountability at all levels of Ohio government.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to answering any questions from the committee at this time.
1. Greg R. Lawson, “Joining Forces: Consolidation Will Help Ohio’s Local Governments if Compensation Package Costs are Properly Managed,” The Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, at http://www.buckeyeinstitute.org/uploads/files/10-31-11-Rethinking-Ohios-Government-Structure- Final%20for%20Release.pdf (December 6, 2013).