KansasOpenGov.org provides an easy-to-access repository of data about Kansas state and local governments, giving citizens the data they need to hold officials accountable.
KansasOpenGov.org is a project of the Kansas Policy Institute. This week I spoke to KPI President Dave Trabert and received a demonstration of the website and some ways it can be used.
On its opening page, KansasOpenGov.org displays a map of Kansas, showing the county boundaries. As you roll the pointer over each county, data about taxes and population appears. Clicking on a county displays a table of tax and population data for the last 12 years.
Many subject areas of KansasOpenGov.org allow you to search the database in your own way, but also provide pre-defined reports and charts that can be accessed with one click. For example, under “Pay and Benefits” there are two such reports, showing state employees earning $100,000 or more, and another showing overtime pay.
The overtime pay report holds some interesting numbers, as shown in the accompanying video walkthrough. Some employees are earning a lot in overtime. Trabert said: “When government says we couldn’t possibly spend any less — as we heard from the governor and others in the last session in order to justify a tax increase — when you have people who sit behind desks such as planners and program consultants earning over $30,000 in overtime — it begs the question: How close are you looking?”
High overtime expenses may mean that agencies should look to hire additional employees rather than paying expensive overtime. Some jobs, such as highway patrol officers, are stressful, and high overtime earnings may mean employees are working long hours. This may be unfair to them as well as unproductive.
Another subject area of KansasOpenGov.org is school district revenue and spending. This data is supplied by the Kansas State Department of Education, which in turn gets data from school districts. The “District Comparison Tool” displays two charts, side-by-side, and visitors can select different districts to be shown in each chart.
KansasOpenGov.org has added some additional data, such as an indication for each school district as to whether it has joined Schools for Fair Funding, the organization that is suing the state for more funding. This allows users to compare these schools with all schools. Interestingly, the SFFF schools receive substantially more state and federal funding (on a per-pupil basis) than the statewide average for all Kansas schools. The SFFF schools receive less local funding, however. But overall, they received more funding than the average school district.
Other insight that can be found at KansasOpenGov.org is the fact that schools increased their contingency fund balances last year at the same time they laid off teachers and other staff. Again, this lead Trabert to question the claims of spenders, this time the schools: “What we want to show is that when people say we can’t spend any less, you’re hurting the kids, and they’re asking for a tax increase: taxpayers have the right to know the facts. … The state has the right to justify the spending, but people don’t get a chance to ask for the justification if they don’t know the facts.”
The section on property taxes lets visitors create charts for each county showing the growth in taxes, inflation, and population. For most counties, and for the state as a whole, taxes increase much faster than inflation or population.
Some of the data the system makes available requires additional explanation. For example, looking at the state’s checkbook shows a check written by the treasurer for $269,940,000.00 with the notation “DEFEASED DEBT – PRINCIPAL PAYMENTS.” This language — provided to KansasOpenGov.org by the state — certainly needs explanation.
In other cases, some of the data the state supplies may be misleading at first glance. For example, a look at employees of the Legislature and their pay shows one member of the Kansas House of Representatives being paid over $106,000 in one year — way more than legislators actually earn. But this person also has another state job, and the two pay sources are combined in the data the state supplies.
KansasOpenGov.org lets users download most data to spreadsheet programs such as Microsoft Excel, which means that the data can be further analyzed and presented.
Going forward, the system is built and operating, and Trabert said that new data will be added to the database as it becomes available from the state. He also plans to add more data about individual school districts. The state refused to provide benefits costs for state employees, and Trabert hopes the state will provide this data in addition to base pay and overtime data.