New bill will create accountability

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, January 7, 2009

By By Gary Palmer
A certain brand of conservative tries to legislate morality, set rules of intimacy and promote specific religious doctrine but, hey, we've all got our faults.
Conservatism can also be about government accountability and good stewardship of public money and those on the right who are toiling in those fields need a shout-out and encouragement.
I am therefore pleased to embrace the good work of Michael Ciamarra, the vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute, with which I seldom agree, and state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and state Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, with whom I also have many differences, but who I respect professionally and personally.
Ciamarra recently wrote a column, and I am going to commit grand theft from it in the spirit of bipartisanship. His column touts an initiative that only a knave – or perhaps the Alabama Senate – could oppose. Ciamarra is pushing a bill that Orr and Ball will introduce in the 2009 Legislature that will basically give Alabamians with computer access the ability to follow how their tax dollars are spent.
The bill would require the state to set up a searchable database of all state money-dealings, require electronic filing of campaign contributions and expenses and make public officials disclose the names of family members who work for a government agency.
A dozen states have already set up something similar, thanks to federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., one of the most conservative members of Congress and some guy named Obama.
Does Alabama need to join those states? Well, as Ciamarra noted and as we have discussed editorially in The Times, the recent "F" grade given to this state's budget transparency by a national study indicates we could probably do better than we are doing.
I'm not smart enough to know whether transparency would have alerted the public to the problems with Jefferson County sewer system that have put that county on the precipice of bankruptcy and has the Birmingham mayor facing federal charges. That would appear to be the most egregious misuse of public money in the state at the moment. Being able to see exactly where the money goes surely raises the level of debate about whether Alabama is wasting money or needs more for vital causes.
Ciamarra has found the perfect Thomas Jefferson quote to summarize this. He said, "We might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear as intelligible as a merchant's books, so that … every man of any mind … should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses and consequently to control them."

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