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Louisiana modernizing its website to track state spending

Louisiana modernizing its website to track state spending


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana is upgrading its website to track government spending, giving it a new name and user-friendly, graphics-focused look that lawmakers hope will draw more people to review how the state uses taxpayer dollars.

The improved transparency site, known as Louisiana Checkbook, went online Monday at www.checkbook.la.gov.

The one-stop website, developed by Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration, will allow searching by spending type, agency and financial year, with interactive charts and graphs, downloadable data and ability to compare across multiple categories. Over time, people will be able to view state employee salaries, contract data, information about boards and commissions, incentive spending on economic development projects and financial reports.

"Louisiana Checkbook represents our continued commitment to public accountability in state government," Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Edwards' chief budget adviser, said in a statement.

Eventually, details on how nearly every state budget dollar is spent will be included on the site, but only a portion of state agencies initially are included in the data.

More will be added, most departments within three years, according to an Edwards administration timeline. Spending by the health department, the state's largest expense area, isn't expected to be on the website until 2021.

Lawmakers on the Joint House and Senate budget committee got an advance view and offered praise. Slidell Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt called it "a great first step."

"The ease of use is something that really needs to be commended," said Sen. Norby Chabert, a Houma Republican.

Louisiana Checkbook was the subject of a fierce lobbying effort that put the Edwards administration at odds with House Republicans, conservative organizations and business groups. After debate across three legislative sessions, an agreement was reached on legislation describing how the financial transparency website should look and what it should contain.

Edwards signed that bill by Port Allen Republican Sen. Rick Ward into law earlier this month.

The idea is modeled after an Ohio website. GOP lawmakers and other supporters of the concept have pushed the improved transparency as a way to help control state spending, by increasing accountability through heightened scrutiny. They believe if more detail about the budget is available to the public, agencies will be more concerned about the appearance of waste and misused funding.

To make the site as broad as supporters wanted, however, Dardenne has said Louisiana needs state agencies on the same accounting and financial management computer system, an ongoing project that started under former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and has cost the state about $100 million so far.

Dardenne has said that work will cost another $26 million to finish. Lawmakers allocated about $12 million of that so far across this year's legislative sessions.

The Louisiana Checkbook website builds off a Jindal-era government spending website called LaTrac that offered some sorts of searchable information, but in a clunky, older format.

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Online: Senate Bill 13 of the second special session: www.legis.la.gov

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte