Letter To The Editor: Much Needed Financial Transparency

Much-needed Financial Transparency
To The Editor:
On Wednesday, Aug. 3, I was proud to join Gov. Haley and others for a bill-signing ceremony at TriCounty Technical College’s satellite campus in Easley, S.C.
It was a special day for me, because the legislation she was signing into law was a higher education transparency bill I have long championed. Under the new law, South Carolina’s state-supported colleges and universities must disclose their monthly spending details on their Web sites.
It was in 2008 that I unveiled the state’s first Transparency Web Site, which gives taxpayers click-of-a-mouse access to details about how state agencies are spending public funds. It was considered a major advancement in the cause of good government, giving citizens unprecedented access to government finances.
As the next step in this push for government transparency, it seemed logical that higher education spending should be posted online also. However, although our state-supported colleges and universities receive millions of dollars in public funding, their spending isn’t processed through the same accounting system as the rest of state government. Therefore, I couldn’t simply post the details of their spending online for them, as I had done with the spending by state agencies that use the state’s central accounting system.
Nonetheless, transparency for colleges and universities is important. So I was proud to work with members of the legislature on a two-pronged approach to get higher education spending online: While legislators such as Senators Mike Rose and Hugh Leatherman pushed legislation to require online spending transparency for higher education, I began trying to persuade these institutions to act immediately to do so voluntarily. Many did.
In working closely with various college officials, I’ve been constantly impressed with their willingness (and enthusiasm) for this project. As this new law takes effect, over half of the state’s colleges and universities have already begun posting their spending on their Web sites. They’ve discovered that providing financial transparency to the public is neither costly nor difficult. In fact, the relative ease with which they were able to accomplish this goal was an important factor in the legislature passing the bill.
The passing of this transparency measure bodes well for the state. When spending is done in the open, rather than behind closed doors, those in charge of the purse-strings are naturally more accountable. Besides, letting taxpayers see where their hard-earned dollars are going is simply the right thing to do.
Richard Eckstrom
S.C. Comptroller
Columbia, SC

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