By State Treasurer John Schroder

My background is in small business and real estate development, and I’m always amazed when people don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to costs. I see it all the time, especially in the construction industry.

If you’ve ever built a house or watched an HGTV renovation show, I’m sure you’ve heard it before. “The flooring ended up costing more money, but only by a few hundred dollars.” “We ran into a problem, and it’s going to cost you more than our original quote, but not much.” Well, add up $100 here and $100 there, and before you know it, your project is totally over budget.

Believe it or not, structuring the state’s budget is a lot like building or renovating a house. In order to craft something credible, you have to first look at the structure. We need to strip the budget down to the studs in order to get a better look. Then we can truly build something that stands on a solid foundation.

The way to build a credible budget is to know what you’re working with, and the only way to truly know that is to improve transparency. Transparency must be a priority in order to have a true and accurate understanding of how much the state spends and what it spends its money on.

But here’s where we hit a snag. What’s transparent to one person often isn’t transparent to another. Groups in the non-profit and public sectors have made strides in improving transparency over the years, but it’s time for an update. I’ll admit, some information may be out there, but it can be hard to locate and understand. You need computer access, know where to find the links, understand government lingo, and sometimes you have to dig in multiple places.

We need to consolidate state budget and spending information in one place, make it easy to understand and search, and go from there. We don’t have to go to the Legislature to improve transparency and accountability in order to regain the public’s trust. There are things we can do right now.

Several good government groups in Louisiana are spearheading transparency initiatives, and I’m willing to partner with any of them. Some are starting awareness campaigns; others have bought website domain names; and some lawmakers are considering legislation to move this idea forward.

At the Treasury, we’re reviewing what financial information and reports we can post online to improve transparency in our office. I encourage local governments to look at ways they can create or improve transparency on the local levels. As we work together, there will be ample opportunities for local governments to participate and provide their input.

Money and funding for a project like this may become an issue. But in the end, increased transparency could provide the state with an opportunity to generate savings and revenue.

We can get Louisiana’s fiscal house in order. But, we have to clean the house, before we put the furniture inside. For too long Louisiana has been spending money on furniture before the house was ready. Let’s change this process, and do it in the light of day for everyone to see. I ask for your help in making this happen.

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