State Comptroller Richard Eckstrom was right: Details about spending by state agencies could be made easily accessible to the public on the Internet.
Eckstrom has insisted since taking office that sharing the details of state spending with the public is a good idea. But some state agencies balked at the idea, arguing that gathering the information and putting it online would be far too costly.
So, Eckstrom and his staff did it on their own, collecting the information and placing it on a new Web site, www.cg.sc.gov. The site, which has operated since March, lists what each state agency spends in a month or in a year, broken down by categories, including, in some cases, individual expenditures.
Eckstrom said his office did not have to hire any new employees to create the site and update the numbers. Nor was it very costly to do.
The trick, according to Eckstrom, was to convince agencies to use the same software and to create a uniform system of reporting spending information. After that, compiling the information for the Web site was easy.
This is a considerable benefit to anyone who wants to know how our state agencies spend taxpayers' money. It also encourages transparency in government.
Eckstrom's new mission is to encourage local governments across the state to post their spending records on the site. He has no authority to force local governments to comply, but he thinks they should have a natural desire to put that information online.
With local governments, budgetary information would not be posted uniformly as state spending is. Eckstrom notes that local governments vary in how they report spending. Some smaller governments, he said, might want to download copies of their written budgets and post them online.
A large city or county probably will have to get the ball rolling. Eckstrom said that the city of Greenville has volunteered as a test case, and Charleston also has shown some interest.
We would encourage York County and its municipalities to contact Eckstrom and volunteer to post their budgets online. Local governments in the county could pave the way for the rest of the state.
Eckstrom believes that, ultimately, making this information easily available to the public helps quell suspicion and reduces the need for Freedom of Information Act requests from the public. That makes sense.
Giving people the opportunity to monitor government spending with a trip to one Internet site is likely to increase trust in government and, in turn, improve the quality of government.
We're grateful Eckstrom has doggedly pursued this project despite some resistance by state agencies.