Montana launches online checkbook site

A website unveiled Thursday by Gov. Steve Bullock lets the public look at portions of the state of Montana’s checkbook in detail.

Bullock announced the website, transparency.mt.gov, during his State of the State address Wednesday.

“Montana taxpayers want to make sure we’re spending their money wisely, and I’ll insist that the state never spends more than it takes in,” the governor said in a written statement.

The online checkbook displays payments made from the accounts payable portion of the state’s financial system after Nov. 1, 2012. Confidential payments are included, but names have been redacted to protect individuals’ privacy. Data in the checkbook app will be updated monthly.

Not included in the search are:

  • payments made from the Montana University System (different account system)
  • payments between state agencies or the U-System (kept on general ledger only)
  • payroll payments made through the state’s HR system
  • payments made by cities and counties
  • payments made with a state credit card
  • payments via direct wire through a bank

The site notes that the online checkbook is just “one component of the accounting system,” so the data will “not match audited financial statements, nor will it match budget reports.”

Bullock spokeswoman Judy Beck said the website is a scaled down version of the sort of financial transparency site that legislators have been trying to pass for years.

“It’s one component of what the Legislature’s proposals would have required,” Beck said. “It’s what we could do with what we had. It’s not a complex, integrated system, which is what legislators wanted.”

It was also much cheaper than what legislators have proposed in past sessions. The Department of Administration created and will maintain the site with existing staff and hours.

In March, the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a report that gave Montana a failing grade in transparency on government spending.

According to the nonprofit’s self-defined standards, the state failed because it did not have a one-stop website that gathered budget and other public information.

Bozeman Rep. Tom Burnett sought to create such a site with his House Bill 444 during the 2011 Legislature, but his bill was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer for being too expensive.

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