Bill would broaden state entity financial disclosure

A bill that would broaden the scope of a financial transparency law aimed at state government was heard Feb. 17 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

LB851, sponsored by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, would modify the Taxpayer Transparency Act to include quasi-public entities such as boards and commissions created by the Legislature.

“The proposal would broaden the type of entities required to submit financial data for the state’s transparency website,” McCollister said.

The bill defines a state entity as any agency, board, commission or department of the state and any other body created by state statute that includes a person appointed by the governor, the head of any state agency or department, an employee of the state of Nebraska or any combination of such persons that is empowered to collect and disburse state receipts.

Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg testified in support of the bill, saying it would build upon improvements that his office has made to the transparency website. He said a national organization rated the state’s website a “D” when he took office, but recently upgraded that ranking to a “B+.”

The website would be improved further by including the receipts, expenditures and contracts of quasi-public state agencies, Stenberg said, which often are also responsible for taxpayer dollars.

“I think that they should be held to the same standards of disclosure that we currently have for our state agencies and offices,” Stenberg said.

Jessica Herrmann, representing the Platte Institute for Economic Research, also testified in support, saying the state has approximately 30 quasi-public entities that would be impacted by the bill.

Transparent use of public funds is essential for citizens to make informed decisions and hold elected officials accountable, she said.

“Nebraskans need solid information on what they get for their tax dollars,” Herrmann said.

Timothy Kenny, executive director of the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, testified in a neutral position. Saying the quasi-public agency is “wholeheartedly in favor of meaningful disclosure,” Kenny said security concerns regarding disclosed information remain.

He said the agency had 15 intrusions into its data system in the last 90 days seeking access to information.

“Unfortunately, this is the world we live in and these are the threats that we see,” Kenny said, adding that the agency could be required to spend up to $150,000 to develop a system capable of integrating securely with the state transparency website.

Under the bill, entities would be required to submit all expenditures of state receipts—whether appropriated or nonappropriated—including grants, contracts, subcontracts, aid to political subdivisions, tax refunds or credits that may be disclosed under existing laws and any other disbursements of state receipts in the performance of the entity’s functions.

Transfer of funds between two state entities, payments of state or federal assistance to an individual or expenditure of pass-through funds would not be subject to the bill’s provisions. Data collected would be available on the state spending website beginning in fiscal year 2016-17.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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