By recent Tallahassee standards, the three-page memo Florida Senate President Don Gaetz issued last week on whether to renew a contract for a powerful new budget analysis tool was refreshingly forthright and open. Point by point, he explained to his fellow senators the background of the initiative, its results and his criteria for determining what the Senate should do next, be it renewing the contract or going with another alternative. If only all government was this transparent.
The irony remains that the best hope in years for shining a light on the state's secretive budgeting process began in the dark. The so-called Transparency 2.0 project that is set to expire Dec. 31 began as a no-bid $5.5 million project, quietly hatched by then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos. The result, nonetheless, is impressive: Spider Data Systems' proprietary software allows a user to instantly connect the dots across government databases to see how the state's dollars are spent, who requested the money and who ultimately benefits. Those are connections only the most seasoned Tallahassee insiders are capable of accessing now, which leaves power concentrated in the hands of far too few.
Gaetz's memo illuminated details that rightly deserve consideration before plowing ahead — from an annual $1 million licensing fee that still doesn't guarantee public access to the company's unwillingness to disclose its full ownership. Most important, however, is that Gaetz went on record committing to his 39 fellow senators that he will find a solution regardless to ensure senators and the public have access to a robust budget analysis tool.