Thursday, July 26, 2012

State Capitol Week in Review ​LITTLE ROCK –  Thanks to a law passed by the legislature last year, expenditures and salaries of Arkansas state government are available for public inspection on the Internet. ​The web site is ​The legislature created the web site when it approved Act 303 of 2011. It is the Arkansas Financial Transparency Act, although it's also known as the "Online Checkbook" act. ​Under Act 303 state agencies will post the salaries of all employees, as well as expenditure data that includes amounts paid under contracts with private companies that bid on state projects. The data includes the names of vendors that are awarded contracts, the amounts of the contracts and whether they are for commodities or professional services. ​The act applies to the offices of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, land commissioner, auditor, treasurer and lieutenant governor. It also would apply to all boards and commissions, judicial offices, the Lottery Commission and legislative offices. ​State agencies shall make available on the Internet information about their bonded indebtedness, such as the original amount of principal borrowed, the interest rates charged and the source of revenue for repayment of the debt.  They must cite the statute authorizing them to borrow money. ​The web site includes revenue that the state collects in taxes, and also income from grants, fees and fines.  Some of the information is updated daily and some it is updated monthly, such as public employees' salaries.   ​Financial information about the state's bonded indebtedness is updated quarterly.  The web site does not have anything yet on bonded indebtedness.  It is scheduled to be posted online by the middle of September. ​Expenditures are listed in various ways.  One is by agency.  Another is by classification, such as salaries, travel, debt service, retirement benefits, capital outlays and operating expenses. ​One of the most extensive breakdowns of state spending is by vendor.  The site lists about 29,500 entities to whom the state paid money.  Some are private businesses that sold motor vehicles and equipment to state agencies.  Others are firms that provided professional services to the state, such as architecture firms and engineering firms. ​The web site has standard contracts between the state and private businesses if they are for more than $25.000.  Construction contracts are listed if they are for more than $20,000.  Also, it lists payments by state agencies to cities and counties, such as Correction Department reimbursements to county jails for holding inmates under the jurisdiction of the state. ​The names and salaries of state employees are listed, as well as the date on which the employees began working for the agency. ​Higher education is exempted from the act because colleges and universities use a separate accounting system and it would cost millions of dollars to include them.  However, the University of Arkansas has made its expenditures accessible to online inspection at a web site at this address: ​The financial transparency web sites list information that is subject to the state Freedom of Information Act, which means it does not include employees' social security numbers.  It doesn't include a private vendors' tax information or information that would give other businesses a competitive advantage in bidding on state projects.

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