Minnesota Website Opens The State Checkbook

Minnesotans can check their state government’s spending habits online, and a new study says it is one of the best websites in the country.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund recently released a report card for state websites that allow residents to track government spending. It shows Minnesota tied for third place with rival Wisconsin. They earned marks of A, with a score of 94 out of 100.

Ohio and West Virginia had 98 scores and received A-plus grades.

States around Minnesota showed a variety of scores: Iowa received a 91 score, North Dakota 68 and South Dakota 72.

PIRG reported that the leading eight states provide web visitors “accessible information on state spending. Citizens can find information on specific expenditures through easy-to-use features.”

Known as online checkbooks, PIRG says that some sites do not show all spending spending. But for Minnesota and others with the best scores, most data is available.

“If we are going to tax people, we have to show value to the people of Minnesota,” Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said. “They have been be able to check for themselves…. It is just plain good government.”

The comprehensive Minnesota online checkbook is a fairly recent development. In 2014, the state received low scores on its government transparency site, but by 2016 it had been overhauled.

While Frans would like to see further enhancements, like speeding it up, he said no drastic changes are needed.

In 2016, the site logged 78,721 page views; last year that was up to 90,268.

Promoting the site (mn.gov/mmb/transparency-mn) has not been a top priority, but Frans said his department will do better.

Chairman Jim Knoblach of the House Ways and Means Committee said he likes the transparency the website provides.

“We do put an awful lot of information the website,” the St. Cloud Republican said.

Knoblach said people come forward to state officials with reaction to how money is spent after looking over the site.

“I think it is a bipartisan effort,” Frans said. “I do believe that both parties want this information to be accessible.”
When Gov. Mark Dayton’s term ends at the beginning of 2019, Frans said, his department will tell the next administration that the transparency website should be a priority to continue. “I think it is an important tool.”

Frans said he would like to see the Legislature follow suit and post how it spends its money. However, lawmakers have exempted themselves from many of the open records requirements that the executive branch must follow.

“Why is it just the executive branch?” Frans asked.