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May 17, 2018

Pennsylvanians may soon easily see exactly how their tax dollars are spent

Politics Taxes
Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg Rlibrandi/Wikipedia Commons

The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.

It's likely the most frequent question voters have for their elected officials: How are you spending my money?

Proposed legislation aims to make it much easier for Pennsylvanians to get that answer. House Bill 1843, which passed the lower chamber with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this month, will let state residents "track every cent" of their tax money, according to the bill's primary sponsor.

“I have full confidence the taxpayers will appreciate and use this tool to examine and better understand how their money is being spent by state government,” said state Rep. Seth Grove. R-York, in a press release. “This bill would clean and enlarge the window through which taxpayers view the state’s financial dealings and ensure this tool will be around for decades to come.”

The bill would amend the state's budget process, requiring every state agency to make their annual budget requests and expenditures publicly available online.

To make it easier to break down those numbers, the treasury department would develop and maintain a "transparency portal," which would show each agency's growth and reduction in spending, as well as changes in revenue, going back at least four years from the current budget.

The website would also include visual aids, such as charts and graphs, to demonstrate how money is being spent from year to year. Grove said the website, dubbed the "Commonwealth Checkbook," would be a "user-friendly" tool for Pennsylvanians to see how their tax money is being spent.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 178-12. One of the few legislators to vote against the bill, Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Pittsburgh, tried to amend the bill so that agencies wouldn't have to post their unedited budget requests online.

Markosek essentially argued that an individual agency's budget proposal to the governor is a rough draft, and not a final decision, as the governor considers each agency's request before submitting an official budget proposal for the entire state.

He said right-to-know laws should protect certain internal conversations about budgeting, and noted that lawmakers themselves are not subject to the same public scrutiny about how their offices' budgets are determined. Markosek's amendment wasn't adopted.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.