Harrisburg needs all the help it can get in filling a $3.2 billion budget gap. And early this month the state Senate voted, 30-19, to let a key constituency in on the deliberations: State taxpayers.
The Taxpayer Transparency Act would create a searchable database that would put most of the state's finances online. The bill is now in the House, which should act promptly to move this legislation to Gov. Rendell's desk.
Year after year, lawmakers and the governor struggle to balance the budget, debating what to cut and what to fund. The Transparency Act would enable taxpayers to give Harrisburg input on how best to spend their money.
Pennsylvania is behind the curve in adopting this good government practice. At least two dozen states and the federal government have similar sites.
Some states allow the tracking of the smallest expenditures. Harrisburg's measure only follows expenses of $25,000 and up - an unnecessary threshold that should be eliminated.
Startup costs are estimated at $60,000 to $150,000, in line with other states, so fears of adding to the deficit were unfounded. The Rendell administration scared off 19 Democrats by saying the act would cost millions. Some of those same Democrats had helped the measure sail through key committees with unanimous, bipartisan support.
Tellingly, the lone Democratic vote in favor was from Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.), who occupies the seat once held by bad-government poster boy Vince Fumo - convicted in March of 137 counts of conspiracy, fraud, obstructing justice, and tax violations.
"Transparency and clarity in government are what people want and deserve," Farnese said. "This kind of bill goes a long way in providing that."