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State portal still doesn’t include local gov’t salaries

Published: Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014 11:04 p.m. CST

State lawmakers in 2012 approved a bill to add the salaries of county, municipal and township governments to the searchable Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal.

Two years later, the data is not there. Neither are the salaries of local library employees, which a 2013 bill added. And lawmakers – some concerned, others irate – are wondering why.

The Department of Central Management Services that maintains the website says that the provisions of the bill were “subject to appropriation,” and that lawmakers never set aside any finding to implement the additions. The department estimated during the legislative process that it would cost $480,000 to implement the addition, and $240,000 a year to maintain the data.

If the funding is appropriated the data can be added, spokeswoman Alka Nayyar said.

“It’s something we’d be happy to do. We’re always looking for ways to promote transparency,” Nayyar said.

But a local lawmaker who was chief sponsor of the bill in the House calls the explanation a lame excuse from a department with a history of overstating expenses.

“It’s an egregious breach of the taxpayers’ trust. This was done to have full disclosure and transparency. I don’t think this is an issue at all except that [CMS] didn’t wish to do it,” state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said.

The Internet portal at accountability.illinois.gov, created in 2009 by legislation from local Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, was meant to increase accountability and reduce waste and fraud by putting state salaries, expenditures, contracts and other information online. It is administered under CMS, the agency in charge of state government’s human resources, information technology, facilities management, vehicle fleet and procurement needs.

Franks said that CMS never approached any lawmaker about lacking the funding to add the new data. He also rejected the agency’s cost estimate, and said having local governments transmit the data electronically to the agency would not cost anywhere near six figures. Even if it did, he said, the amount would fall within the 2 percent that the agency can move between budget line items without asking for permission.

Franks has written a letter asking Gov. Pat Quinn to require CMS to fulfill the mandate of the law, and wrote Attorney General Lisa Madigan asking her office to make sure that other divisions of state government are complying with the laws passed by the General Assembly.

“There’s enough flexibility to get this done. They never said it was an issue. When I find out they’re not even implementing the laws at all, heads are going to roll,” Franks said.

Tryon agreed that CMS should move to add the local government salary data. He agreed with Franks that CMS has a tendency to inflate costs, and said the cost of creating the portal came in far under its initial estimate when lawmakers were advancing Tryon’s bill.

“I think a transparent government is what everybody wants. When you look at the investment that every unit of government has made in [information technology] and computer systems, this should be a relatively easy job for anybody to do,” Tryon said.

State law already requires local governments to post online the annual salaries of all employees whose total compensation exceeds $75,000.

About this series

“No More Excuses” is the Northwest Herald’s ongoing series of stories about the public’s right to know in Illinois.

What it means

State lawmakers in 2012 passed legislation requiring the state’s Transparency and Accountability Portal to also include salaries of county, township and municipal employees. But the information has yet to be added.

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