OPINION: Governor should sign data bill

Ever wonder about the financial details of a government contract with a private business? You know, the details that force you to foot the bill for the project as a taxpayer? And what about the trickle down factor when the main contractor hires sub-contractors for major components of the job? Might you also be interested in that information as well, since ultimately taxpayers are responsible for the entire bill?

Every day in Minnesota deals are being forged between government entities and private business that ultimately lead to schools being designed and built, roads being constructed and massive community centers erected.

These projects are essential to successful communities and it is taxpayers who are ultimately responsible for paying off the bonds for these projects. So imagine if you were not able to find out key components of these deals and how those details might affect the cost of the total project.

Knowing how these contracts are crafted and performed and how taxpayer dollars are being spent are at the core of a bill that is awaiting Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature. But the bill, known as Senate File 1770, is in jeopardy of being sidetracked because of some late session maneuvers in the House that added an amendment that dealt with a separate data practices issue that may be of concern to the Department of Public Safety. That concern could lead to a veto of the entire bill by the governor.

The bill’s history had its beginnings in northern Minnesota when Timberjay newspaper publisher Marshall Helmberger requested information about costs and other aspects of a school project for the areas near Ely and Tower. When Helmberger asked the school district for details about construction contracts, the school indicated it did not have the records. He then went to the contractor working for the school, Johnson Controls, and sought the same information. He cited a provision in state law that required that the information be released. Johnson Controls refused, so Helmberger took them to court–and won in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. It was an important victory for residents throughout Minnesota who should have free and open access to government contracts with private business. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise, hence this new legislation became necessary to create transparency.

With both the House and Senate agreeing that this is important legislation, all that is necessary now is for the governor to sign the bill. There is far too much at stake for this not to be signed. There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars that go from public coffers to private business every year and in order to ensure that money is being spent wisely, there needs to be oversight.

The Timberjay case dates to 2010, so a solution to this issue is long overdue. The citizens of Minnesota deserve to know how every penny of their taxes is being spent. This legislation helps achieve that goal and makes sure that all future records will be shared with the public with full and open disclosure.

To share your thoughts with the governor, contact him soon at 651-201-3400 or go to the governor’s website page at http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form and leave a message.

By Keith Anderson, director of news, ECM Publishers, Inc.

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