Alaska Senate passes bill to maintain website aimed at spending transparency

Lawmakers seated around a table
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, pauses during a comment in a Senate Finance Committee meeting at the Capitol in Juneau in March 2020. On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill Wielechowski sponsored that would require the state to maintain the Alaska Checkbook Online website. (Klas Stolpe/KTOO)

The Alaska Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would ensure the state maintains its website that allows the public to examine how state money is being spent.

The Alaska Checkbook Online was launched by former Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008. It allows the public to search the amount of every payment by the state and who received it. But the Department of Administration took the website down for nearly a year, beginning in April 2020.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski said he wanted to make sure that the public can access the information easily. 

“We started to hear from Alaskans who said, ‘Hey, it’s clunky, it’s hard to use, but we still want to know where our money’s being spent,’” he said. “They couldn’t find it at all, it just wasn’t online.”

He sponsored Senate Bill 25, which would require that the information be posted monthly. 

The bill would require that the information be searchable on the website, rather than in files that have to be downloaded first. 

Wielechowski said it could prevent wasteful spending.

“Fundamentally, for the citizens, it’s just good government,” he said. “It’s government transparency. But there are also arguments made, and I’ve heard from contractors who say: ‘You know, I like to go in and look and find out what’s being bid, so that I can make a more efficient bid, save the state money, on a contract.’”

The bill also would expand the information available on the site to include all monthly revenue for each state agency. The monthly balances for state savings accounts and the permanent fund’s earnings reserve would also be required.

It would require posting annual salary, travel, relocation and per diem expense information for the leaders of the administration, the university and public corporations. 

The number of employees of state agencies for each of the last 10 years would also be posted. 

Wielechowski sponsored a similar bill shortly before the Palin administration launched the website. The Senate passed it in 2008, but the House didn’t.

The House now will decide whether to pass the new bill and send it to Gov. Mike Dunleavy to sign or veto. 

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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