Nebraska taxpayers are getting a helping hand in figuring out exactly where their state tax dollars go. And it ranks among the nation’s best tools for tracking state government spending.
The tool is the website NebraskaSpending.gov, run by the State Treasurer’s Office.
In its latest ratings, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave the website a B-plus, and its 88 out of 100 score ranked it in the top 10 nationally for informing the public in a functional, transparent way.
The spending website offers the public access to a wide variety of detailed information — ranging from the current state budget to each state agency’s spending on items large and small, from an individual state employee’s mileage reimbursement to mutimillion-dollar highway construction payments.
“The public is paying the bills for all of this. You ought to be able to see where the dollars are going,” State Treasurer Don Stenberg told The World-Herald.
The site includes information about how the public can go about filing open records requests for other state government information.
Earlier this year, Nebraska got a mediocre grade from an open government group for transparency at four levels of government — state, counties, cities and school districts.
So the high mark for the treasurer’s spending website is welcome news. The more that government operates in the open and the more access is provided to information, the better the citizens are served and the higher the public’s confidence in the integrity of the process.
Stenberg said Nebraska’s spending website has been continuously improved; its grade from the research group has risen every year since it received a D in 2010.
The treasurer says improvements will continue as officials add to the information available. That’s encouraging, too. Work is being done to provide more information on economic development tax credits, grants and the public benefits of such programs.
Another area that needs work is improving public access to state contracts. Legislative Bill 429, sponsored by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, would help achieve that goal and deserves legislative approval.
The bill, which Crawford has designated as her priority, would require that the Department of Administrative Services maintain a public, online database so that Nebraskans could read copies of active state contracts. The treasurer’s site would link to those documents.
The measure, which has advanced in the Legislature with strong support through two rounds of debate, would be another solid step toward keeping Nebraska taxpayers fully informed on where their money is going.