Watchdog Wire

Ben DeGrow

October 23, 2013

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recorded comments on Amendment 66 and PERA, originally reported on Watchdog Wire, also raised questions about the cost of a promised financial transparency website.

Senate Bill 213, the new school finance legislation that would go into effect if voters adopt the billion-dollar tax increase, makes $1.3 billion in annual spending promises (clearly laid out in a recent Colorado Springs Gazette report by Megan Schrader). Among the line items in SB 213:

    Five million dollars annually to the [Colorado Department of Education] to offset the costs incurred in implementing a data system to implement the average daily membership count and the financial and human resource reporting system….

The last part refers to a transparency website being held hostage to the billion-dollar-and-growing tax increase. Fiscal analysts say it will cost $2.85 million in 2014-15 to pay for the “web-based portal” that will almost show where every tax dollar goes in education.

When my co-editor Joshua Sharf asked the governor if Amendment 66′s new tax revenue was needed in order to create the transparency website, Hickenlooper responded:

    YES! I mean, to have a website like that, $18 million, $20 million, and then to operate it, yeah!….

Note the $18-20 million is distinct from operating costs, so it clearly represents an estimate of the cost to implement the site. In fairness, the governor had fresh on his mind a budget analysis of a new electronic driver’s license system. But the confidence with which he asserted the comparison and the stated estimate gives the careful observer enough pause to ask:

    How much will it cost to create the promised education financial transparency website: less than $3 million or closer to $20 million?

    With the estimated spending already outstripping the billion dollars in new tax revenue, what else in SB 213 can we expect to cost more?

    Would we actually be able to go online and see how much it costs to create the transparency website, since it only is supposed to feature, “To the fullest extent possible comparable reporting of expenditures at the school-site level as well as at the school district level, at the Board of Cooperative Services level, and by the State Charter School Institute”, and not at the CDE itself?

At least Coloradans are left with one bit of good news. The roll-out can’t possibly go as badly as the Affordable Care Act’s exchange sites.

But how to answer the three lingering questions? One could hope that the pro-66 Colorado Commits campaign, which has reported total fundraising over $7.7 million, might be able to shed some light on the issue.

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