The e-mail to the editorial writer had a catchy grabber of a greeting: "Dear Fellow Tax Slave,'' wrote Todd Kruse, a 42-year-old Apple Valley man who blogs and runs a small public affairs/executive search firm.
A frequent critic of wasteful government spending, Kruse had a good question about a good idea: a searchable online database allowing taxpayers to track where state money is spent. The Minnesota Legislature approved such a database in 2007. Kruse thought it was supposed to be up and running by this summer.
So where is it?
The answer isn't what he wanted to hear: There isn't one. He's still waiting for a good answer to another question: Why not?
Kruse's quest led to e-mail exchanges with lawmakers, bureaucrats, tax activists and finally, the media. Calls from both Kruse and the editorial writer only muddied the waters. Kruse initially was told the database didn't exist. But then a legislative aide said it did. The aide sent a link. Once it actually worked, it was quickly apparent this was not the right database. "From what I saw on this website this is simply a tool for the 'takings coalition' to find state money to apply for it is NOT a tool for taxpayers to see 'where does our money go.' What do you think?'' e-mailed a frustrated Kruse.
The well-intentioned aide was indeed mistaken. Several phone calls later, the state Department of Administration confirmed Kruse's fears. There is no database, and it's not clear when there will be. An old state computer system, which is being updated, is not Internet-friendly. It's not clear if the new computer system will include a spending database because the Legislature didn't appropriate the $1 million to $1.5 million needed for it.
Back in Apple Valley, Kruse is rightly disappointed. The Internet offers taxpaying voters an unprecedented opportunity to hold government accountable for its spending. The federal government has a database similar to the one planned in Minnesota. Several states have quickly put up so-called "Google Government" databases. The pricetag in Texas? $310,000. "So Minnesota needs at least $1 million dollars but the State of Texas did essentially the same thing for only $310,000?'' Kruse wrote in his blog. "Something is clearly wrong here and further justifies the need for spending transparency in government.''
Kruse's database crusade is a worthy one. Legislators and bureaucrats, take heed. Minnesota should be leading the way-- not dragging its feet -- when it comes to government accountability.