Viewpoint: Combs envisions goal for government transparency

Government transparency may often seem to be an elusive ideal. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, however, is leading the way toward achieving this goal with common-sense solutions and a bold vision.

I had an opportunity to interview Combs before she spoke on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) titled “Has Atlas Shrugged? Business in America.” “Atlas Shrugged,” a famous, influential book by philosopher Ayn Rand, describes the dangerous consequences in a society that demonizes business and financial success. John Galt, the hero, finally stands up to the oppression by starting a new society that values success and innovation.

According to Combs, while speaking on the panel, “John Galt lives in Texas.” The economic statistics certainly support her claim. Texas has cut spending, balanced the budget and still maintained a “rainy day fund” for use in critical situations.

“With what’s going on in this administration, I thought that it sounded an awful lot like the themes in ‘Atlas Shrugged,’” Combs told me. “This particular government seems to really have it in for business, seems to have it in for risk-takers, seems to have it in for people in the private sector.”

When government oppresses business and demands higher taxes, citizens have a very difficult time finding out where their money goes. Combs wants this to change.

She is fighting for a revolutionary program that will require local governments in Texas to post information online about how tax revenue is spent. Data regarding education spending, local debt obligations and public pensions will be available for all citizens to view and analyze. “My hope is that I’m going to try to raise the consciousness of every single Texan in the state to let them know that it’s your money,” she said.

This isn’t just talk. After only four days in office, Combs posted all of her own agency’s expenditures online, “down to the pencil level.” Within six months, she had done the same for all state agencies.

The first hearings on her new proposals, House Bill 14 and Senate Bill 14, took place yesterday. The leading opposition to the bills comes from local governments citing difficulties in posting the information. To dispel these criticisms, Combs is implementing innovative strategies. She incorporates the use of Facebook and offers free website design for any local government that needs help preparing the information. “It is inexcusable in 2013 that we cannot find out about every single tax dime,” she said.
With these transformative new programs, Combs hopes other states will soon follow Texas’ example. “We are leading the way in terms of transparency,” she told me. “We had 30 states contact us about how we put this up.”

Danny Huizinga is a sophomore Baylor Business Fellow from Chicago. He manages the political blog Consider Again and writes for The Washington Times Communities.