A spokesman for Ohio’s state treasurer, Josh Mandel, wowed the crowd at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry with a demonstration of Mandel’s pet project: the Ohio Checkbook.
It’s a neat and interactive website that drills deeply into state and many local governments’ finances.
Louisiana’s LaTRAC system in the Division of Administration was an earlier model of the same, although the Ohio website is slicker and — unlike our state — all departments of government are on the same system.
Speaker after speaker at LABI’s annual meeting railed against taxes. “As your banker,” said newly elected state Treasurer John Schroder said, “I will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.” He then proceeded to tell the array of suits that their taxes are too high.
A tough message, that. Positively brutal.
There was no missing the subtext of the Ohio Checkbook presentation, that all those evil bureaucrats will be caught wasting a ton of money, if we have a cooler website.
That can be questioned. First of all, there is the small matter of human nature.
What is the No. 1 search on the Ohio Checkbook? It’s not Medicaid or transportation or office supplies. It is salaries.
Yes, not fiscal discipline but pure envy is driving a lot of people to check that Joe two desks over is not making more.
In theory, a Louisiana version of the Ohio Checkbook would empower citizens to question spending decisions. In practice, what audience it draws may have narrower agendas.
That’s not at all bad. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton organized the government of the United States to have checks and balances. LaTRAC probably is already used by contractors who didn’t win a bid to check up on their competitors who did. That is human nature, too, but it has a perfectly Madisonian effect, in terms of keeping government honest.
But the Ohio Checkbook agitation reflects a larger agenda of LABI and its Republican allies, to talk about anything and everything except the state’s chronic budget crisis. Whatever a Louisiana Checkbook might save, and its boosters acknowledged at LABI that it will be savings over time, not immediately, it is hardly a panacea. It is not a substitute for tax reform.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he likes the idea of more transparency in spending, but he and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne noted that the state is a long way from digitally together: Another $26 million — on top of $100 million or so spent mostly over the course of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration — is needed to get state government networked, much less local governments and most public colleges in the state, which are now not on LaTRAC.
One of the lessons of LABI’s presentations should be that if you’re going to run government like a business, it’s not just about cutting taxes. The budget crises and short-term thinking of the past decade have resulted in a lack of investment in one of the most basic functions of an organization, its computer networks.
A Louisiana Checkbook, or LaTRAC Plus, has to be paid for.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.