|State Agencies Claim Confidentiality on Travel Spending|
$21.4 Million listed as 'Confidential by Law or Legal Authority'
|March 22, 2011 - Wichita - State agencies, boards and universities in Kansas claimed they did not have to disclose details on $21.4 million in spending on various forms of travel and entertainment in FY 2010, according to a Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) analysis of the state's checkbook. Complete details on travel and the entire state checkbook are available online at KansasOpenGov.org.|
Total spending on travel and entertainment in FY 2010 was $39.4 million, so state agencies last year withheld details on more than half of total travel spending.
KPI President Dave Trabert said, "$39 million is a lot to spend on travel in any year, and especially so when some agencies say they are being forced to cut services. Maybe the Kansas Bureau of Investigation needs some discretion when conducting investigations, but the breadth and volume of these confidentiality claims are incomprehensible."
Of the 104 state entities that spent money on travel and entertainment last year, 102 claimed some degree of confidentiality. The top ten agency claims of confidentiality were:
Some information is specifically and appropriately prohibited from being disclosed under the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA). However, KORA also provides state agencies with broad discretionary authority to decide whether to disclose some information. Article 2, Section 45-221 lists dozens of exemptions to mandatory disclosure but none that specifically address travel expenditures. Exemption #30 grants extremely broad discretion over "Public records containing information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy".
"State checkbook records don't indicate which exemption from disclosure is invoked on travel spending, but disclosing the names of hotels, airlines and restaurants that received taxpayer money would not be an unwarranted invasion of anyone's personal privacy. It is, however, an unwarranted invasion of taxpayers' right to not know how their money is being spent and state law should be changed to eliminate gaping loopholes in KORA."
Claiming confidentiality is not the only way state agencies obscure spending on travel. KPI's review of state travel records also found many examples of the vendor being listed as the agency or university itself rather than the actual vendor that provided the service. Other large payments are simply listed as 'VISA' or checks were made payable to an 'imprest' fund, which is another name for a petty cash fund.
Trabert concluded, "This lack of transparency is unconscionable. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. Even the State Board of Accountancy shielded some payments from taxpayer review. Payments as small as 5 cents were listed as 'confidential'. One can't help but wonder why state agencies don't want taxpayers to know how tax dollars are being spent - and how much of that $39 million total is really necessary spending."
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Kansas Policy Institute is an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans. Our work centers on state and local economic policy with primary emphasis on education, fiscal policy and health care. We empower citizens, legislators and other government officials with objective research and creative ideas to promote a low-tax, pro-growth environment that preserves the ability of governments to provide high quality services.
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