When newly elected Wyoming State Auditor Kristi Racines produced six full years of state spending records earlier this month, the seas parted in red-state Wyoming. It was a stunning policy reversal in the state that previously received an "F" grade on transparency. Racines acted quickly – it only took her office 30 days to produce the records.
Racines's action capped a five-year fight by our organization at OpenTheBooks.com to break open the Wyoming state checkbook. At various points, we were told
that spending records didn’t exist, a $63-million piece of accounting software needed an expensive upgrade, and the addresses of state vendors weren’t subject to disclosure. Once we battled through the minefields of misinformation, the state charged us a $7,820 transparency tax.
After we had paid the tax, the state auditor’s office slow-walked record production. Together, with our legal partners, the Equality State Taxpayers Association of Wyoming, we sued the state of Wyoming in district court to enforce open records law. Foster Friess’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign elevated our issue, and the Wyoming Liberty Group backed our transparency project since 2017.
Then, this month, the new auditor – Kristi Racines – aggressively embraced the transparency revolution. Now, the books are open in Wyoming.
For the first time in history, Wyoming families, taxpayers, journalists, and everyone can review all state expenditures online. Our interactive map
is free to use, and it includes $28 billion in vendor payments during fiscal years 2013 through 2018.
the recipients by ZIP code. Search your neighborhood or look across the entire country. Just zoom-in, click a ZIP code pin, and scroll down to see the results rendered in the chart below the map.
We found that one out of every four dollars spent by state government flowed to out-of-state recipients. Last year, $1.2 billion of $4.6 billion in state payments flowed to 5,614 entities located outside Wyoming. Over the past six years, non-Wyoming entities received $6.4 billion in state payments.
The state checkbook is full of interesting finds including $3.5 million in maintenance costs for the two state-owned twin-engine Cessna Encore luxury jets. Those amounts do not include fuel costs or the salaries of the pilots or capital cost of the planes.
Is Wyoming state government running well? The people of Wyoming will make that determination. Giving oversight will require 1 million eyes on state spending. Everyone who reviews the expenditures will see something different.
Here are three notable statistics regarding the last six years of state spending:
- Numerous vendors. Every year, there are at least 22,502 entities paid out of the state checkbook at a threshold of $100 or more.
- Huge contracts. There were approximately 2,400 state vendors receiving annual payments exceeding $100,000 each. Nearly 600 of those vendors received more than $1 million and 90 vendors received at least $10 million.
- Big money. Annual spending ranged from $4.3 billion (2013) to $4.8 billion (2015) to $4.6 billion last year (2018).
The University of Wyoming (UW) received the most state funding of any public entity since 2013. In fact, $1.6 billion in payments flowed to UW from 42 state agencies during the six-year period. According to our data at OpenTheBooks.com, UW itself has 7,350 public employee salaries
and 13,764 vendors
Wyoming paid the Cigna Health & Life Insurance Company more than any other private entity since 2013. For providing health and wellness services to the state, Cigna was paid $1.3 billion over the period of 2013 to 2018. Annually, state payments ranged from $193.6 million to $231.7 million.
Do you want to know how much the state spent on travel since 2013? $73.4 million. Advertising? $7.1 million. How much did Wyoming spend on social safety net programs, like Women Infants & Children (WIC) program? $43 million. Credit card usage? $94 million. How much did the state transfer to counties? $1.5 billion. Municipalities? $1.6 billion.
Now, taxpayers can get quick fact-based answers to questions regarding the size, scope, and power of government. Public access to the state checkbook allows citizens, taxpayers, and journalists to hold the political class accountable for tax and spend decisions. For the first time in state history, Wyomingites can follow the money.
And the production of the state checkbook is already saving money.
Former State Auditor Cynthia Cloud’s office estimated a $445,300 five-year cost to produce the state checkbook and comply with proposed transparency law. In a report to the legislature
last fall, Cloud said complying with our checkbook request and future open-records requests could cost $94,260 the first year and $87,760 each year thereafter.
Auditor Racines, however, produced all records for less than $180. Then, she refunded our payment of $7,820.
Opening the books in Wyoming has already saved government watchdog groups thousands of dollars. Next up? Saving Wyoming taxpayers millions of dollars in avoided wasteful spending.
Note: We reached out to former Auditor Cloud for comment and will update the piece if she responds. Auditor Racines was unable to comment directly about the production of records citing the prior litigation, however, her office stated that "She remains committed to increasing transparency in state government."