A Watershed Time for State Government

November 21, 2008

By Richard Eckstrom

Comptroller General


When you’re spending other people’s hard-earned money, it’s just common courtesy to let them know how it’s spent.

That’s not a principle always embraced by government. Too often, tax dollars are spent under a shroud of secrecy, and decisions which affect your family are made out of public view.

Fortunately, this is a watershed time for South Carolina government. There’s a growing movement afoot to improve and reform government, and chief among the reforms is increased transparency.  

Earlier this year, I implemented a transparency measure with Governor Sanford which allows anyone with Internet access to view spending data on state agencies. It’s linked to the Comptroller General’s Web site — www.cg.sc.gov — and contains detailed yearly and monthly spending information for 80-plus state agencies. The premise is that state agencies are far more accountable when spending is done in the open, and the taxpayers should have as many tools as possible to find out how their money is spent.  

It should serve as a reminder to public officials that their spending will be seen, and therefore they should act responsibly with your tax dollars. Sunshine, as they say, is the best disinfectant.  

Several weeks ago, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced they’re renewing a push to have more legislative votes recorded for the public to see. There are too many voice votes on important issues, they rightly contend, and so they’re now leading a charge to have more votes cast on the record, in full view of the citizenry.  

Like the spending-transparency Web site, this would be a tremendous step toward a more open, accountable government. Elected representatives who vote in their constituents’ best interests should welcome this change.  

Empowering ordinary citizens with the access to how money is spent and how their representatives vote will help safeguard the public trust, hold those in charge of our purse strings accountable and allow people to make better-informed decisions in the voting booth. At a time when many believe there is a real crisis of leadership in our country, these reforms are more important than ever.  

Ultimately, an informed citizenry is the watchdog that ensures sound governance. 

In an election year, change and accountability become political buzz-words, so it is encouraging to know there’s a serious challenge to the business-as-usual mindset which is pervasive in Columbia. Other good-government reforms which will likely see vigorous debate during the upcoming session include  restructuring state government so it operates more efficiently, and capping the growth in state spending so that government doesn’t outpace our ability to pay for it.  

But if we are to truly change the ways of Columbia, we must first change the way we view the role of government: We serve the people, and they have a right to know how we spend public money and how we arrive at decisions that impact them.  

Good government can flourish best in full view of the public.