Policy Group Launches Statewide Media Campaign

For Information Contact: Carl Graham at 406-600-1139

 

Billboards, Mailers, Website Weigh-in on Capitol Transparency Debate

 

BOZEMAN (04.27.09) Montana Policy Institute, a non-partisan policy research institute, is joining the statewide debate on spending transparency with a new statewide educational media campaign. The free-market think-tank is bolstering its recent online animated web short “BigSkySearch.info,” with a series of billboards in and around the State Capitol in Helena, and an informational mailer to all legislative districts.

The billboards and mail highlights Montana’s current legislative debate over a proposed transparency website. If approved, Montana will become the nineteenth state to approve a measure to place all state spending, contracts and state salaries in on online, searchable database.

> Billboard samples can be viewed at: www.BigSkySearch.info

“The federal government’s $800,000,000 airlift of stimulus tax dollars without an instruction manual is really the biggest billboard for transparency,” said Carl Graham, CEO of Montana Policy Institute. “Most politicians want to do the right thing when it comes to spending other people’s money, but putting a GPS tracking device on every dollar that leaves the State Capitol adds a necessary layer of accountability to the process. We’re using a little humor and commonsense to make the case,” he added.

The Montana Policy is an independent nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. It provides analysis and information to encourage individual freedom, personal responsibility, and free markets in Montana.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Montana Policy Institute

67 W Kagy Blvd, Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

406-219-0508

info@montanapolicy.org

www.montanapolicy.org

 

MPI is a Montana tax exempt corporation operated exclusively for the public benefit. No substantial part of the activities of the Institute are used for the carrying on of propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, promote any political campaign, or on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office

 

What Are They Afraid To Tell You?

The Governor, in his State of the State address, assured us that “[federal] dollars will be spent in an accountable and transparent way…” One would have hoped he meant state dollars as well. But he and a few Representatives on the House Taxation Committee are instead standing in the way of letting us see how our tax dollars are being spent and what’s being done in our names. We should all be wondering why.

First, let’s be clear. This isn’t a partisan issue. At the federal level, President Obama cosponsored legislation with John McCain that brought more transparency to contract spending. Groups as diverse as the Progressive States Network and Americans for Tax Reform have asked their memberships to support more transparency in government using virtually identical arguments and endorsing virtually identical solutions. Nearly two dozen states have taken bipartisan action to bring more transparency to their state spending. This is an issue of fairness and accountability. If you don’t know what and who government is spending your money on you can’t participate and hold your government accountable. We can’t effectively do that in Montana and we need to fix it now.

The Montana Policy Institute recently conducted a poll that found barely 16% of Montanans had ever submitted a public records request to find out where their tax dollars were going or what was being done in their names. That means one of two things: Either the vast majority of us are perfectly happy with how our government is running, who’s getting our tax dollars, how regulations are passed, and all that. Or we feel helpless in our ability to gather any useful information or to do anything with it. In other words Montanans are checking out as active participants in the democratic process. But which of these is it?

Another enlightening number answers that question. In the same poll, MPI asked whether respondents would use a government-run transparency web site to track revenues and spending if it was free and easy to use. Over 65% said yes. Those two results indicate an enormous hunger to find out where tax dollars are going coupled with an enormous frustration over the ability to find out. But what’s standing in their way?

Only one entity is on record as opposing current transparency efforts in the legislature: The Governor’s Office. His Budget Director called a bill (SB 460) to have a monitoring committee oversee state stimulus spending unnecessary. His office has testified multiple times against a bill (SB 241) that would have created a searchable transparency web site where Montanans could track dollars from the time they enter government coffers until they’re spent. What were their arguments? Mainly that you’re happy with the current system of mailing in requests for information, that such a site wouldn’t provide anything new, and that it costs too much. They also insultingly argued that most Montanans are too computer illiterate to use a searchable web site.

Those arguments are all easily refutable by the facts, and have been at www.BigSkySearch.info. Polls show that over 63% of Montanans would like to see such a site and 65% would use it if it was available. Other states and the federal government have created web sites for costs ranging from nothing, i.e. using existing resources, to under a million dollars. I’d bet state government spends more on toner cartridges in a year than they’d spend on a transparency web site, but under the current system it’d take days, weeks, or months of firing off letters to the bureaucracy to verify that claim. We’re talking pennies on the state budget dollar. What can be more important than giving citizens the tools they need to oversee their government? Public service ads telling us to buckle up? Lawn care? Traveling to conferences back East? How much of your tax money could be better spent telling you who gets your tax dollars and why than on pet projects and special interest handouts?

Why does the Governor oppose giving you easy access to your data? There’s no way to know. We only know that he is, and have to presume that he’s leaning on House Democrats to follow suit – even though diverse groups like the Montana Newspaper Association, Montana Taxpayer Association, Society of CPAs, National Federation of Independent Businesses, and others are on record as supporting it.

The Governor’s office has stood alone trying to kill any chances for transparency and accountability for the 2009 session, despite his promising the opposite. And some of his Party in the House are following his lead instead of looking out for your interests. If that doesn’t bother you then so be it. But if it does – and it should – then you ought to tell them so. And you have to do it fast.

 

Carl Graham

President

Montana Policy Institute

 

The Montana Policy Institute (www.mtpolicy.org) is a nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman.

 

For Immediate Release

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Joint Letter Urges Action on Government Spending Transparency

Left/Right Groups Ask Leaders to Act

 

BOZEMAN (04.10.09) Forward Montana in Missoula and the Montana Policy Institute in Bozeman are asking the Governor and lawmakers to bring more openness to governmental expenditures.

The letter states that, while the groups disagree on many other issues, they believe in a strong and informed electorate and share a strong belief that taxpayers should be able to easily access clear and concise information on how their tax dollars are being spent.

Encl: Joint Letter Attached

The Montana Policy is an independent nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. It provides analysis and information to encourage individual freedom, personal responsibility, and free markets in Montana.

 

For Information Contact: Carl Graham at 406-600-1139

 

Montana Policy Institute

67 W Kagy Blvd, Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

406-219-0508

info@montanapolicy.org

www.montanapolicy.org

 

 

MPI is a Montana tax exempt corporation operated exclusively for the public benefit. No substantial part of the activities of the Institute are used for the carrying on of propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, promote any political campaign, or on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office

 

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Montanans Eager to Track State Spending

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For Information Contact: Carl Graham at 406-600-1139

 

Statewide Poll Reveals Desire for Transparency

Bozeman, MT – 4/06/09 – In a poll released today, over 93% of Montanans said that it is important for state and local governments to supply spending information that is fully transparent and easily accessible to taxpayers. In addition, over 65% said they would use a searchable web site containing detailed government revenue and spending information if it was free and easily available on the internet.

The poll, conducted by the Montana Policy Institute in Bozeman – a nonpartisan policy research center, sought to gauge public attitudes towards current state and local government transparency, and to determine how much Montanans know about current open records laws. It found broad support for detailed and easily accessible information surrounding the individual recipients and amounts of state expenditures. Over 95% would like easy access to contract information, 67% would like state employee compensation information to be easily available, and 81% believed that all state spending information should be easily available and accessible to taxpayers.

In contrast to the high numbers of Montanans who would like more data, only 16% of those polled indicated they had ever tried to obtain detailed state revenue or spending information, and of those barely a third (37%) were satisfied with the speed and ease with which their request was handled. “These results clearly fly in the face of the recent Governor’s Office testimony (opposing SB 241, the Taxpayer Right to Know Act) that the current system of showing up at a state office or mailing a request is good enough.” according to Carl Graham, president of MPI. “People want to know where their tax dollars go, and they want finding out to be as easy as getting their own banking information or finding an old high school friend.”

The poll’s results seemingly go beyond assumptions about public attitudes behind several measures currently working their way through the state legislature that would provide more detailed and easily accessible information about state revenues and spending, including federal stimulus dollars. These measures, if approved, would provide easier access to program level revenues and expenditures, but would not satisfy the apparent desire of many Montanans for more detailed information about specific recipients and amounts. SB 241 and HB 645, the Montana Reinvestment Act, both direct the state to make some information available to the public, but, according to Graham, “While these are both steps in the right direction, what the public really hungers for is the ability to track exactly whose wallet their dollars end up in and why. They want to know that their trust is not being violated as all this money is doled out. And they want to see the information before it’s too late to act on it.”

The poll was conducted the week of March 30th, 2009 and contacted 10,000 Montana households. It has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

 

The Montana Policy is an independent nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. It provides analysis and information to encourage individual freedom, personal responsiblity, and free markets in Montana.

Montana Policy Institute

67 W Kagy Blvd, Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

406-219-0508

info@montanapolicy.org

www.montanapolicy.org

 

MPI is a Montana tax exempt corporation operated exclusively for the public benefit. No substantial part of the activities of the Institute are used for the carrying on of propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, promote any political campaign, or on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office

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