Follow the money on state website
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | January 05,2013
MONTPELIER — Stung by a D-minus rating for government transparency last year by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Shumlin administration has launched an online information center where it says citizens will be able to find out what Montpelier is doing with their tax dollars.
Gov. Peter Shumlin said the new website — www.spotlight.vermont.gov — offers a portal into the inner financial workings of state government.
“Any citizen can go in there and see how revenues come into the state, how their money is spent and what we’re doing with their tax dollars,” Shumlin said.
His office has also launched an online “dashboard” — www.governor.vermont.gov — that aggregates key quality-of-life metrics in a single website. Shumlin said the public can use the dashboard to judge his progress on things like job creation, rates of recidivism, unemployment and highway fatalities.
“This is all about accountability,” Shumlin said.
The administration said the new tools are a work in progress. For instance, under the “Economy” section of the governor’s dashboard Friday morning, the website said Vermont had the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. In fact, its 5.2 percent seasonally adjusted jobless rate in November ties it for seventh lowest in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’ll be corrected before the end of the day,” said Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding.
And it was. The site by early afternoon reflected the accurate figure.
The fiscal transparency site for the most part aggregates graphs, charts and spreadsheets already being compiled by various state departments and the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office. By providing residents with a one-stop shop for information they might otherwise have to spend hours combing the web to find, Shumlin said, the site will let them hold government to account.
Deputy Finance Commissioner Sue Zeller has spearheaded the transparency effort and said the site has been designed around the criteria used by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group to rate states.
Shumlin also unveiled a “State of Vermont 2012-2015 Strategic Plan” that he said charts the core mission of state government over the next four years. It is available online at http://aoa.vermont.gov.