As the nation rolls into tax season, it’s common to wonder where all that money even goes. Gov. Steve Bullock’s office announced this week a new website to answer that question.
Transparency.mt.gov is “the new online version of Montana’s checkbook, ” according to a press release from Bullock’s office. The site allows anyone to see what the state government spends money on including every state employee’s hourly wage, except those on the separate Montana University System payroll system. Last year Bullock, as attorney general, made $47.94 per hour, while former governor Brian Schweitzer made $52.
“Montana taxpayers want to make sure we’re spending their money wisely and I’ll insist that the state never spends more than it takes in, ” Bullock said in the release.
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’ll lead to a more effective government, ” Bullock added during his State of the State address Wednesday.
Searching the checkbook can be done by department, category or recipient.
Looking for recent purchases linked to groups with “Havre” in the title shows more than $30,000 in state and federal funds paid to the city, plus a few water and sewer bills. The search also shows the Havre Daily News receiving $330 for advertising, plus $90 from Fish, Wildlife and Parks for some subscriptions.
Clicking on the State Employee Data section allows users to search by department, by an employee’s name or by which city they work in.
Data can also be rearranged by categories like department, title, city, county and wage.
A similar website was proposed by Rep. Tom Burnett, R-Bozeman, in 2011, but Schweitzer vetoed the bill because he said it wasn’t worth it.
“Development of this website would cost almost $400,000, but provide no return on the taxpayer investment, ” Schweitzer said in the letter explaining his decision. “Montanans already have ample access to information about the state budget. ”
Schweitzer argued that legislators could upload the data they have on their own websites, and that the public could ask the Legislative Audit Division for reports, digital or hard copies, for free.
Burnett said Schweitzer was simply fighting transparency.
Bullock approved this similar project almost immediately after taking office, to have it ready to unveil during Wednesday’s speech.
What’s not included
The following are all of the types of transactions not included on the site:
• Payments made by the Montana University System (these are on separate accounting systems)
• Payments between state agencies or the Montana University System (these exist on the general ledger only)
• Payroll payments made to employees paid through the State Human Resource system
• Payments made by cities/counties within Montana
• Payments made using a state credit card
• Payments made via direct wire through the bank.