Nebraska State Sen. John McCollister of Omaha and State Treasurer Don Stenberg today jointly announced proposed legislation to broaden the scope of entities required to submit financial data for the state’s transparency website, StateSpending.Nebraska.gov.
McCollister will introduce the legislation in January with Stenberg’s support. The announcement was made by McCollister and Stenberg at a joint news conference in the Treasurer’s Office.
Under the bill to be sponsored by McCollister, more governmental entities would be required to submit checkbook-level financial information to the Treasurer’s Office to be included on the website, which was established by state law in 2009. While financial records from all state agencies and the University of Nebraska currently are included on the website, financial information from a variety of quasi-public entities is not.
“I have long been an advocate for government transparency,” said Senator McCollister, District 20 in Omaha. “I am pleased to collaborate with State Treasurer Stenberg on this proposal for the 2016 legislative session to include financial information from quasi-public agencies on the Nebraska state spending website. Quasi-public agencies are a large and important part of state government operations. As such, their decisions and budgets should be open to public viewing and scrutiny.”
State Treasurer Stenberg said, “Because quasi-public agencies are created by state statute to carry out important public functions and, in many cases, to manage substantial public resources, I strongly believe they should have the same level of transparency as do state agencies and Constitutional offices. For that reason, I strongly support the legislation Senator McCollister is proposing.
“Transparency fosters accountability, increases public engagement, and improves efficiency in government.” Stenberg said his office has made significant improvements to the state transparency website over the past five years to make it more comprehensive and more user-friendly. As a result, the website has received improved marks from an outside rating organization. The website’s grade has improved from a D in 2011, when Stenberg took office, to a B+ earlier this year.
“StateSpending.Nebraska.gov discloses in a very straight-forward manner how Nebraska receives and spends money. It is a reflection of the State of Nebraska’s commitment to providing Nebraska taxpayers with a valuable public service and to fulfilling the state’s responsibility to show Nebraskans how their tax dollars are being spent,” Stenberg said.
Specifically, the proposed legislation would require “state entities” to submit all expenditures of state receipts, whether appropriated or non-appropriated, including grants, contracts, subcontracts, aid to political subdivisions, tax refunds or credits that may be disclosed under existing laws, and any other disbursements of state receipts in the performance of an entity’s functions.
Under the proposed bill, a state entity is defined as “any agency, board, commission, or department of the state and any other body created by state statute that includes a person appointed by the governor, the head of any state agency or department, an employee of the state of Nebraska, or any combination of such persons and that is empowered pursuant to such statute to collect and disburse state receipts.”
Quasi-public agencies typically are publicly-chartered, independent, bodies that perform some public function and are controlled by government-appointed boards. They may or may not receive state general funds. They are typically endowed with public powers to collect fees or other revenues or to issue bonds, as well as to perform public functions. They are created through enabling legislation to perform a particular service or set of public functions whose receipts and expenses fall outside the state budget.
The exact number of quasi-public entities in Nebraska is not available, but estimates vary from 10 to 20. A section of the Nebraska Blue Book, titled Other State Governmental Bodies, includes 30 entities ranging from the State Anatomical Board to Wyuka Cemetery Board of Trustees. According to the Blue Book, that section includes “miscellaneous boards, commissions, committees, councils, authorities and quasi-governmental bodies.” Entities mentioned in the section include the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, the Nebraska Fair Board, and the Environmental Trust Board.
Nebraska’s transparency website can be accessed at StateSpending.Nebraska.gov.