Bill would open CDOT’s books to public inspection via web

A bill that would give Colorado voters better access to information on Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spending is making its way through the Senate. HB11-1002 sponsored by B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland would see an almost line-item presentation of the data.

Nikkel said that the bill is an extension of the Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act, which she sponsored in 2009. That law, which essentially set an executive order by former Gov. Bill Ritter into law, created the Colorado Transparency Options Project (TOP). The online site allows citizens the opportunity to see the state’s expenditures and revenues online, allowing people to see what they are getting for their tax dollars. However, the project did not include CDOT, because CDOT has a separate financial reporting computer system that was not compatible with the rest of the state system.

“This is a continuing effort on my part to try and ensure transparency and accountability of state government and departmental spending for the taxpayers of Colorado,” Nikkel said. “It is just a way to shed the light on spending.”

The bill states that the new website would create a link to TOP and generate a laundry list of expenditures and revenues along with position salaries.

From HB11-1002‘s fiscal note:

revenue transaction detail must include the amount received, date received, source of revenue, reason for payment, account credited, and program for which moneys were received;
• expenditure transaction detail must include the amount expended, date expended, vendor that received the payment, purchase category, and fund from which the expenditure was made;
• detail on payments made to employees is limited to the employee’s personnel area, job title, and gross year-to-date payments; and
• data are required to be updated every 5 business days, and beginning on July 1, 2013, archived revenue and expenditure data are included for the prior fiscal year only.

Asked if other legislators were supporting the bill, Nikkel said that she feels that everybody is “fairly supportive of the notion of transparency.”

While there are few legislators in the General Assembly that aren’t interested in providing transparency to the citizens of Colorado, the bills price tag of $56,000 dollars could be a significant stepping stone in a year when much of the work of the legislature will be concerning budget cuts.

Nikkel said that while she understands the fiscal crunch she is reaching out to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office and hopes to resolve how money could be found for the project.

Nikkel said that she worked with Russell George, former director for CDOT during the bill’s creation, on the legislation. “I had a number of meetings to work together with his staff and put together what I envisioned this particular website.”

Part of that vision is to make the site “a step above TOP” by following Jefferson Counties online government transparency site as a model. She said it will be simpler to use with more detailed information.

“CDOT folks were very amenable to exploring other ideas that I fed to them in regards to looking to other websites around the country that are good transparency websites.”

CDOT Public Relations Director Stacey Stegman said that CDOT was neutral on the bill. She said the information was already in their own system, but they were ready and willing to make any changes that the general assembly required.

Nikkel said she wasn’t aware of any corruption or problems in CDOT expenditures that caused her to sponsor the legislation. Instead, she said the purpose of the site is to make the books available to anybody who wants to take a look at state spending. She said that among those interested parties were state legislators who have difficulty getting information when they need it.

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