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Friday, March 18, 2011

Site will allow public to review state checkbook

CONCORD – The new website of a free-market think tank will allow the public to examine the checkbook of New Hampshire state government.

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy unveiled its new program, NHOpenGov.org, that contains a half-million transactions from 2009 that consumers can search a variety of ways.

“Your government’s checkbook and your personal checkbook should be equally accessible,” said Charles Arlinghaus, executive director of the group.

The website is the two-year product of the group that grew out of a request of Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon under the Right to Know Law.

Each year state government has about 1 million transactions. Arlinghaus said it will be much easier in the future to update this program than it was to create it.

“The Administrative Services Department kind of had to invent this as we went along,” Arlinghaus said.

Another timely barrier to setting this up was the need to remove confidential information from all expenses.

“You can find out that $200 was spent on AIDS drugs at a CVS Pharmacy but you can’t know that those drugs were for John Smith.”

Senate President Peter Bragdon praised the think tank group for setting it up and vowed to assist in making future information available to the public.

“Increasing transparency in state government has been one of the Senate’s priorities from the very beginning of our new legislative session, so I am very appreciative that the Josiah Bartlett Center has developed the NHOpenGov website that’s dedicated to making the details of state spending more accessible to the public,” Bragdon said in a statement.

“New Hampshire taxpayers absolutely deserve to know, in detail, how their money is being spent and this website makes that information available in a searchable, online database that will just continue to be more detailed as time goes on. This is great tool.”

Arlinghaus praised lawmakers for taking steps on their own through legislation (HB 331) that would require this information be put on the state government web site.

The House of Representatives passed the bill over to the state Senate Tuesday.

All expenses setting up this web site came from private donations, he added.

Josh Elliott-Traficante, Josiah Bartlett’s transparency director, heads up this project and is responsible for updating information.

More than three dozen states now give the public access to this level of spending information about their governments.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.