Open it up, urge Nikkel & Kopp

Editor: Rare is the legislation that goes from stalled to unstoppable under Colorado's gold dome, and rare is the legislator who rides that kind of cyclone in her first month on the job. But such is the case with freshman state Rep. B.J. Nikkel and her transparency bill. Taking office on a vacancy appointment after the 2009 session had already started, Nikkel picked up an open-government proposal that fellow Republican Don Marostica had recently shelved, and quickly assembled a potent coalition for its passage -- after more than a year of inaction by the executive branch on this issue. Here's her account, co-authored with Senate sponsor Mike Kopp.

Bipartisan Calls for Transparency in State Government By Rep. B.J. Nikkel (R-Larimer Co.) and Sen. Mike Kopp (R-Jefferson Co.)

Making government transparent is a popular issue in the Colorado legislature this year, as we’ve had several attempts to provide taxpayers with online access to Colorado’s various governments spending habits.

Our bill, House Bill 1288, places Colorado on the cutting edge of transparency in state government, and if enacted, we will join over a dozen states nationwide that have already put state expenditures and revenues online.

Last week, HB 1288 – The Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act, passed through House Finance Committee unanimously. Two weeks prior to that, a broad coalition of 38 Democrats and Republicans came together on the House floor in unison to co-sponsor our legislation upon its introduction.

The Colorado Taxpayer Transparency Act is similar to other bills that have passed in several states, including Missouri, Kansas and Texas, as well as in the United States Senate. The U.S. Senate version of transparency was sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, and Sen. Tom Colburn, R-Oklahoma.

Just as transparency has brought together members of both parties in the U.S. Senate, a broad coalition of Democrats and Republicans have also come together at the State Capitol in support of making transparency part of state law.

Gov. Bill Ritter, D-Colorado, has even announced plans to sign an executive order, mandating that all government spending be made available electronically. Although we applaud the governor for his willingness to put the state’s spending online, an executive order does not go far enough because it is not a law and can be swept away by the stroke of a pen.

Any new governor can simply rescind Gov. Ritter’s executive order. It’s very important for taxpayers to know that transparency in state government is not fleeting – it must be made permanent by through an act of state law. In addition, other states like Missouri that have implemented it through executive order have come back and made it permanent by putting it into law.

We are currently working with the governor’s office and hope that he will join this bipartisan group of Republican and Democrat lawmakers in supporting this important legislation in making transparency permanent for Colorado taxpayers.

Under current law, the burden-of-proof is on the taxpayer. If you want information on state spending you have to file a Colorado Open Records Act request and be willing to wait, spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on staff research and printing fees, and then wonder if you’ve truly received all the relevant information.

Our legislation shifts this burden-of-proof to the state government by making the process for quickly reviewing how the state is using your money, just a mouse-click away.

Putting the states expenditures and revenues online through statute, is a first step toward greater accountability. Under HB 1288, Colorado citizens will have the tool they’ve asked for to help us identify potential waste, and in some cases, fraud and abuse.

The state’s expenditures and revenues should be transparent, accessible, and free—and we need to keep the mantra of the taxpayers in mind which says, “if you can’t defend it, don’t spend it.”