Guest Editorial: Taxpayers deserve to know where their dollars go

By ASSEMBLYMEN VINCE FONG and TOM LACKEY

In so many ways technology has fundamentally changed and disrupted major industries forever. The speed of innovation coming out of our state has impacted every aspect of our everyday lives — the way in which we take in news, how we are entertained, how we travel, how we bank and so much more. Right here in our backyard, we have the brightest minds developing new ways to defend our nation and protect the men and women in our military.

However, when it goes to our state government and how we operate, we are still way behind.

The disruptive transition created by technology presents opportunities for us to empower Californians to be a part of the solution for some of the major problems we face today. One of the biggest challenges that Sacramento faces is budget transparency—the public, researchers, media and even lawmakers and their staffs do not have ready access to basic budget data. Californians deserve to know where their tax dollars go.

California is the sixth largest economy in the world and has an annual budget of $180 billion, yet Sacramento has not been able to create a system for us to see where taxpayer dollars go. As a result, a recent report ranked California 50 out of 50—dead last—in budget transparency.

We need real budget transparency, where we can see line item by line item how Sacramento spends our tax dollars in light of the most important issue facing families across the state: affordability. We all feel the squeeze trying to live and work in our state. Everyone we talk to in our community tells us story after story of how California is simply unaffordable.

The numbers are astounding:

• Individuals making $100,000 per year in the Bay Area are considered “low income” and thereby eligible for government housing subsidies

• According to Forbes, 15 of the top 20 least affordable places to live in the United States are in California

•?According to L.A. County, Latino homelessness increased by 63 percent in the last year alone, with the homelessness population soaring by 23 percent

Despite these staggering figures, Sacramento continues to make California more unaffordable for local families to live and work here. Since the beginning of the year, Sacramento passed the largest gas tax in state history to fix our crumbling roads, increased the vehicle license fee by up to $175 per vehicle and introduced more than $155 billion in proposed new taxes and fees.

Many struggling families want to know where and how our tax dollars are spent as new costs are passed year after year. Despite Sacramento collecting more of our hard-earned income, our roads are not getting fixed, we sit idle in traffic for hours every day, our state’s water infrastructure has not made progress and our housing crisis is quickly getting worse.

The public needs a way to keep Sacramento accountable, and it starts with budget transparency.

The state of Ohio has already established a comprehensive budget transparency portal that is intuitive, searchable and interactive, so the public can even see where a state official spent public dollars for lunch. Furthermore, Ohio used a California-based tech company to launch this program for a relatively minimal cost.

There is no excuse for why Sacramento should not harness the innovation already in our state to create transparency in the most important document passed by the legislature every year. For this fundamental reason, we introduced the Budget Transparency Act of 2017 (AB 6), which will require the entire state budget to be put online for the public to see line item by line item how tax dollars are spent.

In order for all of us to adequately assess Sacramento’s priorities and spending, we need budget transparency to keep our elected representatives accountable and to collectively figure out how to meet the greatest challenges facing everyday Californians.

Our efforts are centered on the fundamental principle that taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

Technology can play a significant role to create budget transparency and establish a culture that fosters smarter policies that makes California affordable again.

Fong (R-Kern County) serves as the vice chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee and the chief Republican whip. Lackey (R-Palmdale) serves as the vice chair of the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee.

Story First Published: 2017-06-23