Today’s news:

Watching NYC’s checkbook

As an advocate in New York City for three decades, I have often been asked, “Where do my tax dollars go?” Now answers can be found at the Checkbook NYC website recently launched by city Comptroller John Liu.

Checkbook NYC, an online application designed to shed light on the city’s spending, is the newest tool in the comptroller’s My Money NYC initiative announced in March. Checkbook NYC not only cracks open the books on the city’s $60 billion annual expense budget, but now for the first time we are able to track how much capital monies cost the city annually.

This tool is unlike anything seen before, considering both the volume of information available and the frequency with which the site is updated.

Liu launched his My Money NYC initiative seeking to add on to the Clearview contract database announced by former Comptroller Bill Thompson. The comptroller’s rollout included a feature that allowed the public to suggest audits of city agencies they believed were in need of scrutiny. It was then that Liu set the aggressive timeline to have Checkbook NYC up and running by the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Well, here we are and the goal has been met. Congratulations to the comptroller and his staff for accepting the challenge and seeing it through to fruition.

Checkbook NYC provides incentive for sound spending practices and increased municipal accountability by allowing each user to act as a “mini-auditor.” This is especially important during these times of substantial belt tightening in households across the city.

In fact, almost immediately after the site went live media accounts hit the wires about spending practices from the mayor’s office to the City Council.

Wired.com published a review of the program that stated that “after kicking the tires, Checkbook NYC, currently in beta, appears to make good on its promise to a great extent. It’s faster and far easier to navigate than many government websites ...” and “with any luck, you’ll soon have access to Checkbook (your town here).com.”

For an organization like the New York Public Interest Research Group and its Straphangers Campaign, whose goals include keeping the public’s best interest at the forefront of civic discussion, Checkbook NYC has already proven to be useful. No longer do we need to make inquiries and sift through red tape in order to seek out relevant information.

The program is a breath of fresh air in our city’s sometime congested information-sharing operation, although some expenditures lack full detail due to various personal or security reasons.

This is by far the most advanced and up-to-date application I have seen. I am sure this will serve as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to launch similar tools.

Liu wanted to open up government for the public because they have a right to know how their money is spent.

Visit checkbooknyc.com and see for yourself.

Gene Russianoff

Staff Attorney and Chief Spokesman

NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign

Manhattan

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