State Treasurer Josh Mandel is launching an online checkbook so Ohioans can easily comb through 3.9 billion pieces of data on how the state has spent $408 billion over the past seven years — and the system is getting kudos from the political left and right.
Users can search by vendor, by item, by year, by department and more, look at bar graphs and pie charts and spit the information out into a spreadsheet. OhioCheckbook.com offers a “Google-style” search system, interactive charts and the ability to compare spending across up to 10 state agencies at a time.
“By doing this, I know I’ll tick off a lot of politicians in the state and I don’t care,” said Mandel, a Republican who was just re-elected to a second term. “I feel strongly that the people have a right to see how their tax money is being spent. I’m going to stay vigilant about putting information in the hands of the taxpayers.”
Users can browse through broad categories or dive into the weedy details. For example, it is easy to learn how much the Ohio Department of Transportation spent on road salt for each of the past seven years as well as see every check written for salt vendors.
Likewise, interesting little details can be quickly plucked from the billions of records: ODOT spent $675 at Victoria’s Secret on April 26, 2013. The expense wasn’t for lingerie, though. ODOT purchased a storage unit as part of a highway project and paid to relocate storage unit tenants, one being Victoria’s Secret, a spokeswoman said.
The new system, which went live Tuesday, has the support of both liberal and conservative groups such as Common Cause Ohio and the Buckeye Institute, Mandel said.
“It is the kind of thing that can be useful in encouraging thriftiness and accountability,” said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, a left-leaning good government group.
“This online checkbook seems like it’d be a very helpful and useful tool not only for journalists but for citizens in general. I’m sure many people will make use of it,” said Dennis Hetzel of the Ohio Newspaper Association.
Mandel said the system cost $813,980 to build — money culled from budget cuts made elsewhere in his office. About 37 states have online checkbook systems, but Mandel argues that Ohio’s will set a new standard for ease of use and comprehensiveness.
Not included in the postings is individual tax refund or welfare payment checks since that is not public information. Mandel said his next step is to push local governments, public pension systems and public universities and colleges to put their checkbooks online.