May 16—In a functioning democracy, citizens need to be able to see certain facts about their elected officials in the glaring light of day.
They need to know what government is spending money on. They need to know where the money is going. They need to know how much people are being paid and why.
Spotlight PA and The Caucus are taking a yearlong look at legislative spending. They recently explored how open legislators are about their money.
"I believe that transparency in state spending is crucial to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent as wisely and efficiently as possible," says Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre County, on his webpage.
The "It's Your Money" page of Corman's site very dutifully and fully reports how much his two district offices cost, the fact that he drives a state Department of General Services vehicle in lieu of receiving 53.5 cents per mile for using his own car and breakdowns of nine years of Senate budget appropriations versus the general fund budget.
It also notes the $123,644.82 he made as Senate Majority Leader, effective Dec. 1, 2014.
The site hasn't been updated in six years. Not very transparent.
Corman did a good thing when he had the page compiled, with a lengthy list of information, including links to the Office of Open Records and other state sites that could help people find data and get answers to questions.
But the site also is emblematic of the problem with talking a good game about transparency. Today's answers aren't good enough for tomorrow's questions.
Windows exist to let in the light, but if they are not regularly cleaned, they stop doing the job. By the same token, without regularly updated information, there is no transparency. Instead, there is a spot to see that transparency was important enough to use as a talking point but not enough of a priority to regularly maintain.
There is also the fact that salary information for government officials is regularly available. Corman's salary is $17,000 higher today than it was when his page was created. But for an official to be transparent, the information shared should be information that isn't easily looked up, like expenses.
Legislators run a wide range of expenses they bill to the people's purse, from doughnuts and coffee for meetings to catered dinners. That's information the people should have without being pushed to file Right to Know requests.
This is not to suggest Corman or any other officials have done anything wrong. But there should not have to be an insinuation of wrongdoing to get information about public money and how it was spent.
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