February 3, 2010

State to post loan data online

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By Natalie Neumann
Natalie@MarylandReporter.com

Citizens will have an easier time tracking who gets state loans under an online initiative set to take effect next year.

The Department of Information Technology and Department of Budget and Management have agreed to post information about loans of more than $25,000, after lawmakers took up a bill that would have required the move by law. The state administers less than 3,500 loans of that size for things like infrastructure improvements.

Del. Warren Miller, R-Howard, proposed legislation that would have made the state post loan information on the Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Web site.

Stacia Cropper, deputy secretary of information technology, said there is a cheaper, quicker way to post the information and the bill was not needed.

Because of the complexity of creating a web application that would pull information for a web search, Cropper said the bill could cost $140,000.

She said it would be easier to post the information as a database, if the budget department was willing to provide it.

“It just isn’t as sophisticated or perhaps as flashy as the spending accountability site,” said Cropper. “Then when funding becomes available we could migrate that into a full blown application on the web page and make it a little slicker than looking at the Excel spreadsheet.”

Del. Peter Hammen, D-Baltimore City, chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee, asked for a written commitment that Information Technology would post the loan data without a bill.

Miller said he’s “shocked” it would cost so much to add the data to the spending accountability site, but said the committee seemed to like Cropper’s proposed route.

“We need more data online,” Miller said. “Compared to other states we’re severely lagging when it comes to transparency. In an election year, it’s especially important for citizens to see where they’re money’s going.”

Becky Burner, a legislative liason with the Department of Budget and Management, said the information probably won’t be posted online until next year, because it will take time to gather and process it.