Saturday, December 8, 2012

Advocates say Florida government accountability website may shut down

Posted By on Sat, Dec 8, 2012 at 2:46 PM

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Does the state budget reflect the priorities of all Floridians, or just the priorities of campaign fundraisers and special interest groups? Should Floridians have the same opportunity to follow their money with the same information that legislators have? Or are the rules different for lawmakers?

Those were some of the questions posed by Dan Krassner, from the good-government group Integrity Florida, on a conference call on Friday morning. He was talking about Transparency 2.0 — the government accountability website used by the Florida Senate that is inaccessible to Florida taxpayers, and may be completely shut down by lawmakers at the end of this month.

Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring Gov. Rick Scott to create a web portal that makes the state budget and related documents transparent to the public. But according to Budget Transparency in the Sunshine State, a new report just published by Integrity Florida and the First Amendment Foundation, this extremely useful website is in danger of going away before ever making its public debut.

The Miami Herald's Mary Ellen Klas wrote that the website "is scheduled to be shelved at the end of the month as the Senate and the governor's office feud over which has responsibility for maintaining it and paying the $1 million annual license fee."

Barbara Petersen with the First Amendment Foundation said that when comparing the two state government websites set up by CFO Jeff Atwater, Transparency 2.0 is much more user friendly.

"They connected the dots for me, and gave me some dots I wasn't even expecting," she said.

Petersen said it was alarming that the state would "throw away" $5 million spent for the website, and that the public would never gain access to it.

The contract between the state Senate and Spider Data Systems doesn't allow for public access, which Petersen said is a problem.

"The Spider Data/Transparency 2.0 website is a public record, under Florida law. And the Legislature can't contract away its obligations under the public records law," she said.

When it comes to government accountability and transparency, Florida does not stand out. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Florida received a D grade (59/100) on a report card of how the 50 states rate in providing online access to government spending data.

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