Mandel: Put state finances online

WARREN – Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel was in Warren on Tuesday to promote what the Republican says is a ”transparency initiative” to put the state’s checkbook online.

Ohio House Bill 175 would create a searchable database of ”millions of state expenditures totaling billions of dollars” on the Treasurer’s Office’s website ”so citizens can search it, analyze it and follow the money,” said Mandel, who visited the Tribune Chronicle on a swing through Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

”I’m doing this because the people of Ohio have a right to know how their tax money is being spent,” Mandel said. ”My vision is to create an army of citizen auditors throughout Ohio who will have the power to hold the politicians accountable for state spending.”

The bill was introduced in May 2013 and sat in the House for about a year, but it received tremendous bipartisan support – but not from Democrats who represent Trumbull County – when lawmakers moved it on to the Senate in June.

State reps. Tom Letson of Warren and Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, among the eight lawmakers voting against the proposal, said the timing of Mandel’s proposal smacks of politics. He is being challenged for Treasurer by Democrat state Rep. Connie Pillich.

”It’s good policy, but bad politics,” said Letson, who claims the Ohio Department of Administrative Services already has the information Mandel wants and can put it online.

State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, also voted against the House bill.

Mandel said the proposal ”has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with good public policy and empowering taxpayers to hold politicians accountable.”

He admitted the Treasurer’s Office has the power already to create the database, but he wants legislation codified to avoid the risk of a future state treasurer pulling the plug on the database. His office website already provides a teacher and state employee searchable database.

The bill doesn’t ask for money to create the database. Instead, said Mandel, a portion of $5 million he has reduced from the budget will pay the cost, expected to be about $500,000 to start-up and $50,000 a year to operate.

Once the online tool is running, Mandel said he would be visiting local governments to try to convince them to participate. The cost for local governments would be absorbed by the Treasurer’s Office.

rselak@tribtoday.com