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California Releases a Trove of Financial Data to the Public

The new open data website includes more than 13 million fields of financial information from counties and cities throughout the state.

California’s controller isn’t interested in doing business as usual.

The controller’s office has been collecting and publishing key financial data in paper form since 1911, as required by law. To enhance data accessibility and transparency, California has launched a website that includes more than 13 million fields of financial data from the state’s 58 counties and more than 450 cities, according to the controller’s office.

"We're moving government accountability and transparency out of the analog dark ages into the digital era, where information about how much your city or county is spending and borrowing is available with a keystroke," State Controller John Chiang said of the new website, ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov. "By providing balance sheet details for every California municipality on one website and allowing users to slice and dice the information to spot trends and analyze spending, I hope to empower communities to become more involved in civic decision-making."

The easy-to-use site allows anyone to view revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets and other financial data from every California city and county. Raw financial data is available from fiscal 2003 to 2013, and the site can automatically generate comparison charts based on the type of data and the geographic location selected.

“In significantly greater detail than offered in the previous paper reports, the new website covers funds received and spent by California's local governments, as well as property they own and amounts they owe,” according to the controller’s office.

There’s also a glossary that defines common terms used on the site, such as appropriations limit and business-type activities. The website includes details about open data, why the state created the website and answers to frequently asked questions.

In defining open data, the website makes clear that users are encouraged to review, compare and share any discoveries in real time. “We believe open data has the potential to support a range of outcomes, from identifying wasteful spending and increasing government efficiency to promoting community involvement and improving California’s business climate.”

The state already tracks and publishes the salaries of public employees and how schools are spending Proposition 30 funding, which came from tax increases to prevent $5 billion in education cuts.

This year, the controller plans to upgrade the statewide financial-tracking website based on user feedback. His office will also add data to the site from California’s 130 or so state pension systems.

TaiChesco/thinkstock
Sep 17 2014

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