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Enough Already! – Your Tax $$ at Waste

$400 billion in waste at the federal level due to program duplication. We could do the same analysis at the state level and save $$$ millions.

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

 

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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Government Transparency: A Click or Two Away

Your state and local governments are hiding things from you. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not incompetence. It’s just inconvenient. Some things are inconvenient to tell you. Other things are inconvenient for you to know. Either way, you don’t have access to a lot of information that the Montana Constitution guarantees but that present Montana laws and technology don’t provide for. That lack of transparency means you can’t see what’s being done in your name or how your tax dollars are really being spent.

The problem isn’t with our public servants and employees. The 30,000 or so folks on our payroll are almost all conscientious professionals who want a better Montana. The problem is that as our government has increased in size and complexity, it hasn’t updated its rules or its technology to keep up with our right to know what’s being done in our names. Why does that matter? The harder it is for us to keep up the more likely we are to shrug and say things are just too complex for us to do anything about. Some folks like that. But it’s not how a participatory democracy should work. Informed citizens make informed decisions. Problem is, we simply can’t stay informed under the current setup.

Montanans need to know what the people who work for us are doing. But anymore that’s just about impossible. As budgets and agencies grow, the state’s books and rules get more and more complex. It’s one thing to see a budget. It’s quite another to see how that budget was executed: who got contracts, what was bought, how many people got hired, and how much was spent on any of those things? Article II Section 9 of Montana’s Constitution guarantees our right to know all that. But we don’t have a practical means of exercising that right. Sure, you can spend hours and hours surfing web sites from agency to agency and maybe track down some pieces of the puzzle. But you’re not likely to find information even as basic as what you have in your own checkbook.

Or you could make a written request to an agency or office asking for specific data. If you know where to ask, and if you ask for the right thing, and if they have a document that matches your request, you can even travel to their office during normal business hours to make a copy. So, assuming all those “ifs” come true the data you’re looking for might be available. But is it accessible? Is that the best we can do in the Information Age? I can find and buy a shear bolt for a Sears Craftsman 30” snow blower in ten minutes and with a half dozen mouse clicks. Why can’t I just as easily see how much was spent and who it went to for a snow plow the Department of Transportation just bought? It’s not a question of inventing something new. It’s a question of harnessing current technology in a way that makes our government more transparent and accessible. But that’s only half the problem.

Our laws are also out of date. They were written in an era when Xerox copiers and the U.S. Postal Service were about the only means of transmitting data. But now we have email, web sites, search engines, and all sorts of other tools that allow us to transfer data easily and cheaply, and in formats where people can analyze it, examine trends, make pretty charts and graphs, and a do host of other things that turn raw data into usable information. These are tools that anyone who has ever used Google or Yahoo takes for granted. Why aren’t they available to let us see what’s being done in our names and where our tax dollars are going?

Imagine tracking a dollar out of your wallet from the time it goes into government’s coffers until it’s spent: the revenue source, appropriation, agency, program, contract, recipient, and anything else that dollar touches. That’s true transparency and openness that will let people engage with their government and hold it accountable. The technology is cheap and readily available. Other states have done it. The mandate is in our Constitution. What’s missing is the political will to make it happen. Go to http://BigSkySearch.info to get more information about how to bring our state government into the 21st century. And tell your elected representatives that you want Montana’s government to be as transparent to you as you are to it.

Carl Graham

President

Montana Policy Institute

 

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

 

For Immediate Release

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