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'Show-Me Checkbook' Aims to Improve Missouri's Financial Transparency

The latest financial tool for citizens is intended to offer a direct, intuitive look at how and where the state earns and spends revenue.

Missouri’s new public-facing portal for state monetary data aims to be a significant update on an existing solution launched more than a decade ago.

The Show-Me Checkbook, which went live on Aug. 21, is designed to be a “one-stop shop” for residents to find data on state spending and revenue as well as payroll, debt obligations and cash flow. It’s populated by more than 20 million data points, with roughly 10,000 new data points added each day.

In an interview with Government Technology, state Treasurer Eric Schmitt said improving accountability and transparency has been one of his key goals, since the term-limited former state senator ran for and won the post in 2016. Much has changed in the tech world since the 2007 launch of the original Missouri Accountability Portal, Schmitt said, and the need to improve governmental performance has grown exponentially.

A report released in April by the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Following the Money 2018: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, gave Missouri a D+ grade overall and was a wake-up call. The nonprofit advocate for the public interest rated the state as “lagging” in online access to agency spending data and ranked it tied with Maine in 39th place.

PIRG noted Missouri featured a “subtotaling function” in its “checkbook-level spending” data then available — one of just three states to offer that — but noted the information available from “lagging” states was generally “less accessible or complete” than in higher-scoring states.

“There was a lot of room for improvement. We wanted to do it right, we wanted to take our time and we’re really pleased with what we think people are going to find. And we think that kind of accountability and transparency will lead to greater policy solutions and better outcomes,” Schmitt said.

The Show-Me Checkbook, named for the state’s unofficial slogan, offers users direct access to six areas of financial data via five buttons on its front page — expenditures, revenue, payroll, liabilities and cash flow. Clicking through to cash flow, for example, quickly reveals the state’s July budget reserve fund status of nearly $640 million, along with chartings of budget reserve fund loan by fiscal year; and general revenue fund cash flow. The main page, meanwhile, highlights the state’s fiscal year 2018 budget amount of $28 billion; its Triple A credit rating; and aggregates revenue fund expenditures and gross payroll year-to-date by agency.

The site, which is powered by Tableau and was created by state employees at a cost of “a couple thousand dollars,” Schmitt said, is notable for how it presents existing financial data in new ways. Under its liabilities tab, for example, it points out that pension obligations represent the state’s largest liability at $6 billion in FY 2017. Each Missourian, the treasurer said, has more than $3,000 debt associated because of state liabilities, in “mostly unfunded pension liabilities.”

“That’s brand new, that we brought in on our own,” he said, praising the site’s “utilization of technology to make this very intuitive and innovative,” and noting that while Missouri is a AAA bond-rated state, it also has “the lowest funding ratio for our pensions of AAA bond-rated states.”

The checkbook builds on the earlier launch of the Missouri Economic Dashboard — believed to be the first economic dashboard launched by a state treasurer. It “turns the mirror on Missouri state government,” Schmitt said, to tell “6 million of my fellow Missourians — you guys have a right to know.” It’s not always easy to look at, the treasurer added, but is part of a very necessary discussion.

“I think there’s some things that we can look at and feel good about and there’s some things that we can look at and say there’s some room for improvement. But you’re never really going to have those conversations unless people are armed with the information,” Schmitt said.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.