For the Good of Illinois

Issue No. 8 - May 2014 Reason Foundation

May 19, 2014 04:12 AM
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By Lance Christensen, Reason Foundation
 
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Issue No. 8 - May 2014
Reason Foundation
 
Transparency is an easy promise to make during campaign season, but difficult to keep once candidates become elected officials. It requires the dogged oversight of concerned citizens to keep a check on the political class and to make sure that their tax dollars are appropriately spent. American Transparency, an Illinois based non-profit, is doing the hard work of checking on government spending. They started posting Illinois salaries and pensions in September of 2011. Founder, Adam Andrzejewski, said, "Our mission is to  post 'every dime' taxed and spent at every level of government across America."
 
Today, Openthebooks.com has over 1 billion lines of government spending online from the federal, state and local levels, including government salaries and pension payments. The goal this year is to acquire 2 billion lines. They currently have at least partial salary or pension data for 36 states online and on their awarding winning mobile app, free for Apple and Android users.
 
Recently appearing on Fox Business News The Independents special, "Where's the Pork?" , Andrzejewski related stories of local salary abuse after his group posted nearly 5 million California salary and pension records. At the taxpayer's expense, the pay, perks and pensions of the top 14,500 "highly compensated" federal, state and local public employees cost nearly $5 billion. These salaries will result in decades of pension costs as these people retire. 
 
The website is having an impact on stories that may not have an obvious relation to salary and pension data. Last week, OpenTheBooks.com showcased the salaries, bonuses, job descriptions, and total dollars spent in the troubled Phoenix Veterans Affairs Office. CNN first alleged up to 40 veterans died waiting for medical care and up to 1,400 veterans were placed on a secret "wait list" for months. 
 
Andrzejewski questions whether the VA facility is an employment farm, or a medical system. OpenTheBooks.com data shows a total workforce of 3,170, but only 227 doctors and 576 nurses were employed. The top 100 executives and doctors made a cumulative total of $70 million from 2011-2013. Only 1 quality assurance person was employed and an inordinate amount of money was spent on public affairs, gardening, interior design and architecture.  After the scandal broke, Director Sharon Helman was placed on administrative leave, but it should be noted that she received the largest bonus in the agency in 2013. 
 
Openthebooks.com does not shy away from conflict and hope to hold all elected officials accountable, regardless of party whether that be through their open database or through litigation to overcome rejected Freedom of Information Act requests for all pension data. Whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, it does not matter to Andrzejewski who stated. "If you are hiding public spending or cheating taxpayers, we come after you." 
 
Lance Christensen
Director, Reason Pension Reform Project
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