State GOP lawmakers try again for spending transparency

By Joby Richard / LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — The Republican push for more state spending transparency is back.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced a bill Wednesday to expand a state website to include spending by the judiciary, the Legislature and public universities along with the current data from agencies in the executive branch.

And in the House, Speaker Taylor Barras re-filed his bill to create a new website called the Louisiana Checkbook modeled on a more highly ranked site in Ohio.

Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, proposed the bill that the Senate committee sent to the floor without objection.

Both Ward’s and Barras’ bills failed earlier this year over concerns about price tags of $30 million or more for making the changes.

The Finance chairman, Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said that the full Senate and House should decide how they want to apportion funds in the special session, which began Tuesday and is supposed to resolve a $648 million shortfall in the state budget by June 4.

Louisiana’s current spending website, the Louisiana Transparency and Accountability Portal, or LaTrac, was ranked seventh among the 50 states in 2016 in providing online access to spending data.

A non-profit group in Washington, D.C. rated the sites, and Ohio’s, ohiocheckbook.com, was ranked as the most transparent and easily usable one.

Barras, R-New Iberia, said earlier this year that Republicans wanted to create a similar Louisiana Checkbook site as a part of any deal to raise revenue to resolve the budget gap.

Barras’ bill passed the House 105-0 in February but did not make it out of the Senate Finance Committee due to the cost concerns. Ward said Wednesday that his bill “may be my fourth or fifth bite at the apple.”