Josh Mandel last week launched a worthy initiative to bring greater transparency and accountability to state government. By creating a website called OhioCheckbook.com, the state treasurer continued a push to make financial records easily available to the public. The state’s first online checkbook gives every citizen easier access to the details of $408 billion in state spending, from 2008 to 2014.
More than 30 states have put their spending in digital form. Mandel points to the ability of users of the Ohio site to do more, using Google-type searches, by agency, spending category or other variables. Such flexibility greatly enhances the usefulness of the site, already an advance over requests for paper records.
As the lame-duck session heads to a close, there is still time for the legislature to act to make sure the innovations will survive Mandel’s tenure as state treasurer, which will come to a close in four years. The vehicle to do so is House Bill 175, which has received two hearings.
The bill has drawn no opposition. In support are a wide range of groups, among them the Ohio Newspaper Association, the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause and the Buckeye Institute. Liberal or conservative, they support making access to records quick and easy.
Legislators in Ohio far too often have narrowed the public’s access to government records, impeding the flow of information necessary for democracy to function. Quickly passing H.B. 175, codifying Mandel’s program, would be a welcome ray of sunshine.