Kent — State Treasurer Josh Mandel has been on a personal mission over the last few weeks, visiting organizations across Ohio in an attempt to garner support for H.B. 175, which, if passed, would place “Ohio’s checkbook” online, making it accessible to all.
The “Open Ohio” bill passed the Ohio House of Representative June 4 by an 86-8 vote after being introduced in May 2013. The bill is before the Ohio Senate, where Mandel is hoping for passage by December.
Mandel stopped by the Kent offices of Record Publishing Aug. 15 to explain the bill in detail and shrae his vision of transparency.
“What we are trying to do here is open up the state checkbook,” Mandel said. “I think the people of Ohio have a right to know how their money is being spent.”
Mandel wants the state’s finances placed online in a searchable, downloadable form which can be accessed and compared, he said.
The bill was introduced by Mike Dovilla (R-Berea).
“I went to a legislator who I knew was working on some transparency initiatives,” Mandel said.
Mandel’s hope with the bill is to “create an army of citizen auditors throughout Ohio.”
“I’d like to empower the people of the state to be able to hold the politicians accountable for government spending,” he said. “I believe in the concept that sunlight is the greatest disinfectant to government waste and that when you shine some light on government spending, it makes politicians and bureaucrats think twice before they waste taxpayer money or even worse, defraud the citizens.”
Mandel believes the legislation, if passed, “will be one of the best public services to ever come out of the state treasurer’s office.”
If passed, a resident could search for any state agency’s spending, instead of filing a public record’s request, possibly with several entities, and waiting for days or weeks for a response. Agency-to-agency spending information would also be available, according to Mandel.
The plan is for the database to go online sometime in the first quarter of next year, if passed. Data will include five years from inception, adding each additional year.
According to the plan, citizens will be able to see the amount, date and purpose of each state check written, he said.
The state checkbook is part one of Mandel’s state checkbook plan, he said.
After passage, Mandel said he will attend city council, board of education and county commissioner meetings, requesting the groups also place their spending information online. Part three would be convincing the pension funds and universities to place their records online.
Entities will be asked to voluntarily place information into the database. If they do not comply, Mandel will ask for additional legislation to make it mandatory, he said.
The treasurer expects some groups may balk at the potential costs.
“I’m going to say to them, ‘No problem. You email us the file and we’ll pay for it,’” Mandel said. “Over the past five years, we’ve voluntarily cut about $5 million from our budget.”
A portion of the savings will be used to cover the approximate $500,000 to develop the database, which will be maintained by Mandel’s staff.
He stressed there will be no cost to the taxpayers, not does the legislation contain a stipulation for funds.
“All they have to do is email the files and we’ll take it from there,” Mandel said.
The open checkbook is the third part of the treasure’s transparency project begun in 2011. The salaries of state employees and teachers were placed online, as well as the state’s property holdings.
However, according to the Ohio Democratic Party, Mandel could have put his own office’s spending online without the legislation.
“Josh Mandel could put his own office’s spending online today without legislation, as he could have at any point since January 2011,” Brian Hester, deputy communications director of the Ohio Democratic Party said. “He has refused to do so.”
Debate on the bill should begin again when legislators return from break in the fall.
“We want to get this passed in the Senate and signed into law before the end of the year so we can have it up and running by the beginning of next year,” Mandel said. “We’re trying to generate as much support for this as possible.”
The treasurer said he expects some difficulty in getting the bill passed.
“There’s a lot of fight against it because there are people that don’t want the information public. They don’t want transparent government,” he said.
Mandel’s model is based on those used in Texas, Nebraska and Idaho, he said.
However he hopes Ohio’s model will become the national model.
“I’m confident to say that ours will be a national model and it will be more specific than any other state’s,” Mandel said.
For more on the transparency project, visit www.tos.ohio.gov.