May 13, 2004

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if government could spend money on whatever it liked with no accountability to taxpayers? Apparently that is what some Missouri lawmakers are steering our great state toward.

Representative Todd Smith, Rep.-Sedalia, has introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 715 (a far-reaching piece of legislation including numerous changes to rules governing counties plus lots of other pork-barrel add-ins from other law makers). The proposal would allow counties to print an abridged balance sheet once a year, instead of a full financial statement.

This issue is being touted under the disguise of cost savings for Missouris counties. But I would like to point out to readers that the cost of publishing the financial statement once in the newspaper represents .00035 of the countys annual expenditures. For non- mathematicians that is .035 of one percent, or in straight figures roughly $1,000 of an annual $2.8 million budget.

Isnt it worth .035 of one percent of our money to be able to easily see where our tax dollars are being spent?

For whatever reason, our state lawmakers are making more and more moves like this. They have tried to lower standards for the Missouri Sunshine Law, which governs public meetings. Why do lawmakers want to make it more difficult for us to know what they are doing? Are they trying to hide something from us, the taxpayers? Maybe they arent really, but when you take a look at the issue it sure makes you wonder why they are so afraid to show us what they are spending their money on. A note here I dont believe this is a county issue. I dont feel like Scotland County has anything to do with this state movement. I dont feel like our local county officials have any reason not to publish the financial statement, nor are they trying to hide anything.

To assure you of this, and the fact that I am not just arguing this cause because I like the money the county pays my newspaper to run the financial statement, I make the following pledge:

If we have the misfortune of seeing this law passed, the Memphis Democrat will offer to run the full, unabridged financial statement, for the cost of the new smaller version allowed by the law change.

I strongly feel that our readers, the taxpayers of Scotland County, have the right to know where our money is being spent.

This is just one of numerous attempts by lawmakers to save money at the expense of public knowledge. Cities were allowed to do this a long time ago, so our readers can see the difference between the city financial statement published in our newspaper and the unabridged version provided by the county. I would love to hear how many readers would like to see the city publish an unabridged financial statement.

Schools, hospitals, etc. no longer have to hold elections if there is no opposition. That means there is no official ballot, meaning voters can not write-in a candidate. Thus they have no way to voice their opinion on the election. Just because no candidate officially filed for the office, should not mean a voter is not allowed the opportunity to express their opposition of the existing candidates.

In Iowa, state law requires counties, cities and schools to publish official minutes from all meetings. These are paid public notices that go in newspapers. Sure there is some expense involved (and some income for newspapers) but more importantly, readers can keep a close eye on what is going on in their community.

I would think the city, county and school would be well served by such notices. An informed public would have to be much easier to deal with. There could be no question that any elected official was trying to sneak something past the public.

If you want to be able to continue to read in the newspaper where your tax dollars are being spent, please be sure to let your lawmakers know how you feel about public notices.

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