Their view: Open government progress in New Mexico

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, which promotes limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.

Here’s a portion of a recent column he wrote on open-government initiatives:

In recent years, there has been a big push for transparency in government throughout New Mexico. The Rio Grande Foundation and the Foundation for Open Government, along with a large and bi-partisan group of legislators, have generated some major successes.

This initiative has been driven in part by new technologies that make information more accessible to the average citizen and easier for governments to disseminate. It has gathered particular support in New Mexico because of rampant corruption and the realization that “sunshine is the best disinfectant.”

So, coming in July of 2011, New Mexicans will have access to a brand new “Sunshine Portal” that will create a publicly accessible, online database of financial information from government agencies in New Mexico. The database will include the names and salaries of exempt employees (but not the names of classified employees) and will allow average citizens to scrutinize the state’s checkbook in an easy-to-navigate, online format.

That is not all. In 2010, the New Mexico House finally joined the New Mexico Senate and the rest of the country in posting its floor votes online; the Legislature began webcasting floor proceedings; and just recently the legislative council decided to start webcasting legislative interim committee meetings.

Great progress has been made. But, as the Rio Grande Foundation put together its new public website — www.newmexicospending.com — which is designed to further enhance open government and citizen engagement in determining how their scarce dollars are spent, we discovered that government-run, taxpayer-financed school district bureaucrats are often unwilling to part with supposedly public information.

The good news is our efforts to shed some light on the way school districts spend your money has captured the interest of a bi-partisan group of legislators who are now considering legislation adding school district salary and vendor transaction information to the Sunshine Portal.