A New Way To Track State Spending

Sari Heidenreich
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By 2013, Pennsylvania will have a website on salaries, costs and more.

State government will soon begin putting together a website that will provide one-stop access to state financial information.

Starting in 2013, residents will be able to search a single website and find out how much their senator’s secretary earns, or the amount spent to repave a highway, what agency that money came from and who beat out their brother’s construction company for the contract.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, had identified this government transparency bill, which passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, as a priority. The act is supported by Gov. Tom Corbett, who said in his campaign he would like Pennsylvanians to be able to search easily for financial information online.

The Governor’s Office of Administration will be in charge of developing the database, called PennWATCH, which supporter Barry Kauffman of Common Cause Pennsylvania said will allow residents to monitor state government as a whole and individual programs they are interested in. Pennsylvania will be the 27th state to have such a database.

While Kauffman recognized that many Pennsylvanians either don’t care to or don’t have the time to keep tabs on the government on a daily basis, he said he expects a “substantial number of citizens,” as well as journalists and special interest groups, to use the database.

The data being compiled already is available from state agencies, but not necessarily in an easy-to-use fashion. The new site will display information in a common format. Some backers hope municipalities will adopt the system.

In its first stage, PennWATCH will contain data showing how much federal or state money was given to a state agency or other entity, such as a local university or food bank. The names and addresses of the agencies and entities will be included, and the file will indicate where the money came from, what agency initiated the funding and the fiscal year to which the money was appropriated.

State employee salary information also will be more readily accessible: The number of people employed by each state agency will be updated monthly and include employee names, positions and salaries.

The public will also be able to look up how much state and federal revenue has been deposited in the state Treasury each month. State tax revenue will be reported by specific tax type, and non-tax revenue will be reported in broader terms.

Agencies are required to provide all information and vouch for its accuracy and completeness. Links to each agency’s website also will be included.

Craig Staudenmaier, general counsel for the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, said a provision keeping information private will prevent personnel and health files, as well as certain investment records for retirement funds, from reaching the public eye. That information is already exempt under the Right-to-Know Law.

By 2015, data will be added to show how government programs measure up to their expected performance. A description of each program also will be included.

Compiling this information is expected to cost $847,000. Obtaining the software to measure the performance data is expected to cost $1.4 million. Once developed, the site as a whole will cost about $200,000 a year to run.

Read more: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-pa-government-spending-website-20110711,0,6168571,print.story