Philip Oehlerking

Missouri residents should be able to tell how their cities are spending their tax dollars—to make sure public officials are being good stewards of public resources. The Show-Me Institute’s Municipal Checkbook Project was started to show taxpayers how cities spend money—and who they do business with—so we can decide for ourselves if our cities are operated in a fiscally responsible manner.

Beginning last summer, researchers at the Institute sent sunshine requests to cities throughout Missouri asking for each city’s expenditure records for the last five years. So what is the cost for this kind of transparency? Well, if you live in Battlefield, you would have to cough up $35,101.60 for research, paper copies, and mailing costs. On the other hand, if you live in Salem or Palmyra, you wouldn’t be charged at all for this information.

So why is there this huge discrepancy? It is because the law does not require cities to keep their records in any specific format. Some cities keep their expenditure records electronically, which makes it easy and cheap to produce them upon request. Others keep only paper copies, which means city workers have to spend time looking for information and either scan or mail the relevant documents.

The interactive municipal checkbook database is a tool for taxpayers to use to research their city’s spending. Cities that do not maintain their records in electronically accessible formats will not be available. When a city provides information that is downloadable, the city will be be added to the database. We hope that someday, as a matter of routine, all cities will release this information online and in a format that is taxpayer friendly. If the government can spend your money, shouldn’t you be able to see how?

About the Author

Philip Oehlerking
Research Assistant

Philip Oehlerking graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in political science. His research interests include transportation policy and government transparency.