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More info on Mo. public finances could go online

More info on Mo. public finances could go online

January 24th, 2012 in News

Information about Missouri budget cuts, city bonds and federal grants all could be added to an online government-run database under bills advancing in the state Legislature.

Separate measures pending in the House and Senate each would expand the information posted on the Missouri Accountability Portal, a searchable online database that already includes details about state contracts, tax credits and employee wages, among other things. The Senate gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill expanding the database. The House gave initial approval Monday to its own version of the legislation.

Debate on the legislation focused primarily on an amendment that would require municipalities to post information about their bond issuances on the state website, including details about what revenues would be used to pay off those bonds. Lawmakers have been focused on municipal bond deals this session because of the failure of a bond-financed artificial sweetener factory in Moberly.

The city issued $39 million in bonds in 2010 for the project, which was projected to create more than 600 jobs. But after Mamtek U.S. Inc. failed to make a payment toward those bonds, Moberly officials said in the fall that the city would default. The city's credit rating has since been lowered, and construction on the factory has halted.

The Senate legislation would require cities to post bond information online within seven days of when new bonds are issued. For bonds issued before Aug. 28, 2012, that are still outstanding, cities would have 90 days from the law's effective date to post information about the outstanding bonds to the state website. The legislation has an emergency clause, meaning that it would go into effect as soon as it passes both the Senate and House and is signed by the governor.

State Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, said the changes would make it easier for taxpayers to see how local governments plan to pay off debt that they incur and how that debt would affect the rest of the city's finances.

"That way, a municipality cannot pledge the same revenue stream to multiple items," he said during Senate debate.

The House version of the legislation would require details about public school districts, charter schools and county governments to be included in the Missouri Accountability Portal. Salaries and extra duty pay for school and county workers would be posted, as would financial information on bond debts for counties and school districts. In addition, a copy of the annual reports that cities already submit to the state auditor's office would be included in the online database.

The Senate legislation would require the governor's office to submit daily reports online about money being withheld from the state budget.

Also under the Senate bill, state departments would have to post information about federal grants they receive that are larger than $1 million. The departments would have to say how much money they received, what the money will be used for and whether they will transfer the funds to other state government departments. Departments that receive transferred funds would also have to post information about how they eventually used the money.