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Mass. officials put state's `checkbook' online

By Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press / December 5, 2011
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BOSTON—Massachusetts residents who want to find out how their tax dollars are being spent will now have an easier time rummaging through the state's checkbook.

Top state officials on Monday unveiled a new website designed to help members of the public track state spending.

The "Open Checkbook" website lets the public look up the salary for each state worker, see how much the state is spending on individual contracts with private vendors and compare the budgets of different state agencies.

"This is your money. You have a right to know how every dime is being spent," said state Treasurer Steven Grossman. "You have a right to know and to hold us accountable every step of the way."

Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said the website dovetails with the Patrick administration's goal of making state government "more transparent and accessible to taxpayers."

Others said they hoped the information will help residents understand how difficult it is to meet all the state's disparate financial obligations.

Officials warn that the website, which updates spending in real time, is still a work in progress.

The website currently tracks about 72 percent of all state spending.

That includes spending by all Massachusetts agencies funded by the state budget, the courts, the Legislature and the state's constitutional officers -- governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor, secretary of state.

The site also tracks spending by district attorneys and sheriffs.

Some data -- including budget and spending information from Massport and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority -- has yet to be uploaded to the website.

The website doesn't yet include budget information for cities and towns and for quasi-public agencies like the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, MassDevelopment, MassHousing, regional transit authorities and local education collaboratives.

Officials say they eventually hope to include most of that information on the website.

Some information, including protected data like child-support payments, likely won't be included in updated versions of the website.

Government watchdog groups praised the website, saying it will help residents better understand how the state pays for everything from roads and bridges to parks, playgrounds and libraries.

"This new tool will empower active residents to help make sure that our tax dollars are achieving our goals and that our government is operating efficiently and effectively," said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

The rollout of the website was beset by technical glitches. Originally, officials hoped to have the site up and running by midday, but they were still working Monday evening to get it online.

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