Montana Pig Tales

Once upon a time there was a wonderful land with untold riches. This land had fertile soil to grow more food than the locals could eat, gems and minerals that were sought after worldwide, trees for their houses and abundant fuel for their stoves. This wonderful land was filled with opportunity, and happy families prospered with each generation better off than the previous.
There were also helpful folks in the land’s Capitol City who worked for the happy families and did the kinds of things that everyone could benefit from. They built roads and schools and made sure everybody played by the same rules. And they kept the king in far-away DC Land from trying to run their lives. But then something happened, something awful and selfish.

The people in DC Land and Capitol City stopped working for the happy families and started ruling over them. They grew larger and larger and decided to regulate and tax and dictate more and more parts of the happy families’ lives. The land of opportunity became a land of limitations. Laws were passed to protect people from themselves instead of just from each other. Rules were made keeping the happy families from using all the riches that the land offered and pitting them against each other. The land with untold riches became one of the poorest in the kingdom. The happy families could no longer pass on opportunities they had enjoyed. And so the once-happy land got older and poorer, until finally the only people who could enjoy its beauty came from other places. The land of opportunity became a land of futility. And the once happy families were scattered to the winds.

Montana is still that happy land of opportunity, but we won’t pass that heritage along to our kids if we continue the current path of bigger government, more regulation, and control by Washington bureaucrats. We still have the riches that made Montana the Treasure State, but we’re losing the legacy of opportunity that those riches could provide. We increasingly have a government that has become its own special interest instead of our employee. And we’re being tied down with one size fits all solutions that may be great for New York or Mississippi, but not for Montana.

Welcome to “Pig Tales: Wasted Treasure in the Treasure State” — a one-stop shopping guide to Montana government. This is the second in a biennial look at Montana state government, our people, and our opportunities.

Our simple goal is help provide as much useful information as possible so that as the people who represent us make decisions that affect our lives and our families, we will have a confident and informed voice. Enjoy the tale!

Click here for full PDF (8MB!)

Interested in a hard copy or two? We’ll have them for purchase right here coming soon. Can’t wait? Call us at 406-219-0508 to place your order or email us at info@montanapolicy.org. In order to break even, we will be charging $3.50 for quantities up to 10 and $3.00/copy for quantities over 10. These prices include shipping and handling.

Transparency 101

MPI shares voters’ concerns about government transparency, and whether or not those we entrust with our tax dollars will respect the people’s constitutional right to know how their money is being spent. We’re helping lay the groundwork for the state to create a budget transparency website that would place all state and local revenue and expenditure information online in a fully searchable format.

Several states and even the federal government have already taken significant steps in this direction.  In 2006, the federal government enacted a law that provides a road map for states on how to allow citizens to find out about government spending. The law was co-sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL) and was passed unanimously by Congress. The new law creates a free searchable website that allows citizens to track the recipients of all federal funds.  In addition, eighteen states have passed legislation to create a search capability for their spending.  They all have different levels of capabilities and information, but here are some good examples:

Kansas: www.kansas.gov/kanview/
Missouri: www.mapyourtaxes.mo.gov
Arizona: www.aztreasury.gov/distributions.html
Kentucky: www.sos.ky.gov
Nebraska: www.nebraskaspending.com
 

The state of Montana has refused to create a spending portal during the past two legislative sessions, so MPI has started the process on our own.  We’ve created the site www.opengovmt.org, which has detailed district-by-district school revenue and spending data, as well state employee pay data.

Unfortunately, not only has the state refused to tell you where your money is being spent, but they’ve also put up roadblocks to us telling you.  They’ve refused to tell us, for example, how much each state employee is paid.  That’s pretty simple, and since they won’t provide that data we’re suing them for it.

The Center for Fiscal Accountability has created a rundown of current state transparency portals throughout the country.  Last updated in January 2010, it clearly shows what’s possible and what should be done.

In addition to state transparency portals, cities, counties, and school boards are also making their finances more open and accountable to taxpayers.  Here’s a partial list of local government sites:

Milwaukee County, WI: http://mcap.milwaukeecounty.org/MAP/Portal/ 
Douglas County Schools, CO: www.dcsdk12.org
Jefferson County Schools, CO: www.jeffcopublicschools.org/financial_transparency/reports.php

The majority of these states are getting this information to the taxpayers with little or no fiscal impact, i.e. this is a cheap and easy thing to do, and then been passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Similar bipartisan proposals are long overdue here in Montana.  Go to our BigSkySearch.info to see more great examples and answers to your questions (like how much does it cost?).

In addition to state-sponsored sites, several free market, accountable government organizations like MPI have put up web sites of their own that detail certain areas of state spending.  A couple notable ones are:

 

MPI has launched a school spending site of our own at www.SchoolsOpenMT.org.  This site is the most user friendly and comprehensive source of district by district school revenue and spending information available.  It’s nonjudgmental and easy to use, even allowing comparisons of up to five districts across a variety of categories.

Transparency isn’t expensive, either.  A study by the Mercatus Center found that costs are almost always overestimated and generally low.  We built www.SchoolsOpenMT.org for less than $20,000 and six months work.  Imagine what the state could do if it wanted to.

For more information about state spending transparency take a look at our Policy Note:

And, there’s a lot more at our transparency information site: BigSkySearch.info.

And finally, we’ll be evaluating bills that deal with transparency as they are introduced.  The idea isn’t to tell people whether or not to vote for them.  We want you to know what they say and whether they meet MPI’s goals for a more transparency and accountable government.