Ritter signs Transparency Act to put state’s checkbook on-line

Gov. Bill Ritter signs the Transparency Act. Rep. B.J. Nikkel, left, and Sen. Mike Kopp sponsored the bill.

Gov. Bill Ritter signs the Transparency Act. Rep. B.J. Nikkel, left, and Sen. Mike Kopp sponsored the bill.


DENVER – Gov. Bill Ritter Thursday signed the Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act, but kept it a low-key, unpublicized event in his office.

 The Act, House Bill 1288, puts the state’s checkbook online, requires updates every five days and establishes a 10-year database once it is fully implemented.

The bill was compiled by State Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Dist. 49, and co-sponsored by State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Jeffco.

“Now the numbers in the state’s checkbook will be one click way. That’s the first step toward accountability and transparency,” Kopp said.

Ritter also believes the legislation will lead to greater accountability.

“I think it is important to the people of this state that we have transparency and accountability in government and I think we’ve all made a lot of effort this year to accomplish just that,” Ritter said.

Earlier this year, Ritter signed an executive order establishing the Transparency Options Project (TOP) to implement online access to state government’s spending and revenue records. Ritter made a media event of that, conducting the signing in a high-profile signing ceremony with a number of state officials at his side.

The Transparency Act sets Ritter’s order in law, ensuring that a future governor could not simply withdraw the order.

“I think this builds upon our executive order and I think the two work well together,” Ritter said.

Nikkel said the bill’s language should ensure the information that will be posted is complete and understandable.

“I think it is going to work out really well. The bill, as it stands, is pretty explicit in what we are asking for in terms of individual expenditures and revenues,” Nikkel said. “It’s pretty cut-and-dried in terms of what’s going to be made available as of January 1st, 2010.”

Natalie Menten, a Lakewood resident who helped organize the state’s transparency movement, said the bill’s success was delivered by a grass-roots lobbying effort.

“Colorado should thank the hundreds of citizens who took time to call legislators or took time off from work to testify at the Capitol for this landmark public policy change,” Menten said.

Menten compiled a web site that provides open access to a searchable database of government spending records,. The site became a standard by example during committee proceedings on the Transparency Act. The site, which Menten and a friend put together on a shoe-string budget, allows users to search and compile spending records based on categories such as purchasers, vendors and uses.

“Gov. Ritter was wise to sign the bill and ignore the calls from department heads to veto it,” Menten said. “Now Lakewood needs to do the same and post every open record expenditure down to credit cards, which have the least oversight.”

The Transparency Act sailed through the State Senate in early May, winning unanimous approval and in April passed the House 61-4. Reps. Gwyn Green, D-Dist. 23; Joel Judd, D-Dist. 5; Su Ryden, D-Dist. 36; and Sara Gagliardi, D-Dist. 27, cast the four votes against the bill.

The bill is the only one of three transparency bills to clear the legislature this session.

SB 57, which Democrats killed in the House Education Committee on a party-line vote, would have required school districts to compile their spending and revenue in an online searchable database. Districts and charter schools with no web access would have been exempt.

Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch and Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Dist. 20 sponsored that bill.

Another bill, SB 236, never cleared committee. It would have required school districts to conduct at least one public hearing before building a school, providing neighbors of the school site a chance to comment.

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