In February, Wyoming’s newly elected state auditor, Kristi Racines, made available six years of spending reports detailing $28 billion, following through on campaign promises to create transparency in her office.
“The state auditor is the official custodian of the state’s accounting records,” Racines said in an email to the Wyoming Business Report when asked why it was important that her office establish and maintain transparency about state spending.
“Our citizens and lawmakers must have accurate, timely and reliable financial information in order to make good decisions about their government and elected officials. This is a key component in increasing understanding and participation,’’ she said.
Citizens should not need a subpoena to open the books on government spending, said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of American Transparency, a nonprofit organization that runs OpenTheBooks.com, which is devoted to posting online all the disclosed spending of every level of government across the United States.
“The most important record in Wyoming is a record of where taxpayer money was spent and who received those payments for what service,” Andrzejewski said. “Thanks to new Wyoming Auditor Kristi Racines producing six years of state expenditures to us, for the first time in history, the records are now open to sunshine.”
It took his organization five years and many failed attempts to obtain requested records, he said. Racines was able to produced detailed spending reports within 30 days of beginning her term.
Andrzejewski, also a contributor to Forbes, found that the University of Wyoming received the most state funding of any public entity since 2013. This meant that $1.6 billion in payments flowed to UW from 42 state agencies during the six-year period of records released from Racines’ office, including Fiscal Years 2013-18.
The state also paid the Cigna Health & Life Insurance Company more than any other private entity since 2013, according to Andrzejewski. For providing health and wellness services to the state, Cigna was paid $1.3 billion over the period of 2013-18. Annually, state payments ranged from $193.6 million to $231.7 million.
There are also smaller entries: In 2018, the state spent $1.2 million through the Office of State Lands in the Town of Hanna in Carbon County. In 2013, the Town of Granger in Sweetwater County received its largest allocation in the six-year period, $1.9 million from the Office of State Lands.
“The mission of OpenTheBooks.com is to capture and post online every dime taxed and spent at every level of government across America,” Andrzejewski said. “This empowers regular people with the information to hold the political class accountable for tax-and-spend decisions.”
Racines said it is important that the general public care where their tax dollars are being spent.
“Public funds are everyone’s business, but knowing our government is making prudent use of those funds is paramount,” she said.
For several years, Wyoming has been facing a time of decreased revenue, and the state has had to reduce benefits, positions and services. Over the course of three sessions prior to this year, the Legislature made drastic cuts to agencies as varied as the Department of Corrections to Medicaid, and even its education funding.
“We all want to know that expenditures are prioritized appropriately. Even for people who don’t have interest in delving into every line, knowing the information is open and available helps establish public trust and confidence in our government processes,” Racines said.
According to Forbes, almost $1 of every $4 in state spending has historically flowed out of Wyoming. Racines said she is supportive of spending inside Wyoming “where possible and fiscally prudent.”
“I do, however, recognize that there are not always in-state solutions for the state’s needs due to our low population and rural nature,” she said.
And when it comes to selecting in- or out-of-state vendors, the state auditor only has purview over the budget of the Auditor’s Office.