Are you already familiar with OpenTheBooks.com? It’s a nonpartisan private group dedicated to transparency in government spending. For the past six years, they have been requesting and publishing the spending records of all fifty states so taxpayers can be made aware of where their money is going. Well… make that 49 states. The lone holdout is California which has consistently failed to turn over the records. Their excuse? Apparently, the Golden State isn’t sure where all the money goes. (Free Beacon)
California is the only state in the country that has refused to reveal public spending records to a government watchdog, prompting threats of legal action.
OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit dedicated to government transparency, said the Golden State is the lone holdout since it began sending public record inquiries to state governments in 2013. Governments in 49 states have complied with requests for itemized accounts of taxpayer funds sent to vendors and public sector employees. California’s state government, however, has so far failed to provide the details of the 49 million individual payments it makes each year using taxpayer dollars, saying it is unable to track and document its activities.
“Their excuse is that they can’t locate the records—that their system doesn’t allow the controller after she makes the payment to track the payment,” OpenTheBooks.com founder Adam Andrzejewski told the Washington Free Beacon.
The group is preparing to go to court and sue California in an effort to get them to release their records. This wouldn’t be the first time they’ve had to go this route. They met similar resistance from Wyoming and Illinois, among others. In the end, all the other states wound up collecting and releasing the spending records.
The excuse being provided by Betty Yee, the California State Controller, should be alarming to everyone in the state who pays taxes. Her office is claiming that they don’t have the ability to track the money being paid to vendors and public sector employees. This really only leaves two possibilities and neither of them are good. Either they’re hiding this information from the public intentionally or they honestly don’t have a way to track the money.
If California is unable to keep records of where these tens of millions of payments go each year, how do they audit the system and ensure that nobody is defrauding the state? How do they investigate possible embezzlement or corruption? And even in the miraculous event that none of that is going on, the taxpayers still deserve to know who is getting their money and what it’s being spent on.
Yee claims she’s been doing a fine job and that her office identified $4.35 billion in “waste, abuse, and mismanagement” during her tenure. But as the Free Beacon points out, that’s sort of a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.5 trillion that passed through her office during the same period. Surely this in violation of the state’s transparency laws.
The report goes on to point out another area where money seems to be disappearing into the void. The state’s pension program, CalPERS, is currently $60B in the hole for the current fiscal year. A separate watchdog group, Transparent California, has attempted to get a list of disability and retirement payments from the program so that possible cases of fraud could be identified. CalPERS refused, citing privacy concerns and a judge upheld their decision.
California has the largest economy in the country. (And is among the ten biggest economies in the world.) But they somehow can’t keep track of all the money they are spending? Something smells fishy here and it’s not one of their famous seafood restaurants.