How do you begin to put those kind of numbers into context? We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, a few more numbers to boggle your mind:
$7.1 billion: Gov. Brad Henry’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010.
$11.6 billion: Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s revenue in 2008.
$378 billion: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. revenue in 2008.
$14.2 trillion: The gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States in 2008.
The reporters at Politico have a good roundup of the problems of understanding the federal budget and large numbers in general.
Here’s a recent clip from The Daily Show of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, trying to explain $1 trillion.
Other senators got into the act earlier this month during the same debate about the federal stimulus package before Congress.
Generally, experts said it helps to put such large numbers in terms people can grasp, such as their own salaries or time. I’m intrigued by the MegaPenny Project, which has been around for a few years.
This is one trillion pennies (the tiny dot below the big block is supposed to be a person). That’s equal to about $10 billion.
Meanwhile, the guys at WallStats also have some useful charts on visualizing $1 billion if you’re a “average person”:
Since we’re talking about the federal budget, WallStats also has a nifty chart on their site that shows where federal money went in the last budget.
Imagine those numbers instead as seconds: A million seconds is 11.5 days; a billion seconds is nearly 32 years.
They’re calling on Gov. Brad Henry to create an oversight board and state Web site so we can track federal stimulus money in Oklahoma.
From Matt Guillory, the institute’s executive director:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a huge and complicated bill that will have implications for virtually every agency of state and local government, as well as the people of Oklahoma. The public and policymakers alike have a lot of questions about what funds will be available to Oklahoma and where and how these dollars will be allocated. Creating an accountability and oversight board made up of key elected officials, agency directors, and non-governmental representatives will allow both valuable input on the front-end of the allocation of resources and ongoing transparency as to how money is being spent.
Guillory notes that some states, such as Colorado, already have set up public Web sites for stimulus transparency.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Oklahomans for Responsible Government have a wrap up of some upcoming “Tea Party” events to protest the stimulus package.
Here’s the word clouds for President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress from last night, and the GOP response by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. They were created using wordle from IBM’s ManyEyes visualization site:
There’s going to be an avalanche of federal money coming into Oklahoma in the next 12 to 18 months from the recently enacted stimulus bill.
Will we be able to track it? I’ve already blogged about the federal site, recovery.gov. But it appears the same kind of transparency at the local government level could be lacking. ProPublica has more on the latest memo by the Office of Management and Budget’s director, Peter Orszag:
“For instance, a grant could be given from the federal government to State A, which then gives a subgrant to City B (within State A), which hires a contractor to construct a bridge, which then hires a subcontractor to supply the concrete,” Orszag explains. “In this case, State A is the prime recipient and would be required to report the subgrant to City B. However, City B does not have any specific reporting obligations, nor does the contractor or subcontractor for the purposes of reporting for the Recovery.gov Web site.”
More credit to you if you can follow that convoluted trail of money. I got lost at “subgrant,” and I’m still working my way through Orszag’s 62-page memo. (PDF link)
If it’s any consolation, our elected officials don’t seem any more sure of how the money will trickle down to the states. Both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times had stories today about that issue.
Before it’s too late, maybe we should let our state officials know we’re interested in transparency. State Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage had some encouraging words in a recent AP story:
Steve Burrage, state auditor and inspector, said his office will work with federal agencies to provide oversight and audit results will be posted on the Internet.
“Everything is geared around accountability and transparency,” he said.
“I think as this whole thing plays out, it will become a lot clearer what the legislative intent was behind this stimulus money,” Burrage added.
Hopefully, Burrage isn’t talking about posting a bland report several years after the fact. Maybe this is an issue that gubernatorial aspirant Sen. Randy Brogdon can get behind? After all, he’s already been the force behind opening up recipients of state tax credits.
From the site:
Recovery.gov is a website that lets you, the taxpayer, figure out where the money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going. There are going to be a few different ways to search for information. The money is being distributed by Federal agencies, and soon you’ll be able to see where it’s going — to which states, to which congressional districts, even to which Federal contractors. As soon as we are able to, we’ll display that information visually in maps, charts, and graphics.
At first blush, the site architecture looks a lot like that of the White House site, which is to be expected.
Depending on your political persuasion, the recovery.gov site is either a brilliant piece of Web-spin or a useful tool to track federal stimulus spending. Since there’s not much of substance there right now, I guess we’ll have to make that determination later. Watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has its take on the accountability and transparency built into the stimulus bill here.
One thing that I was hoping might be on the site was some help to make “mashups” of the data with other types of Web applications. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be a priority right now. From the FAQs:
Q: Is the spending data on recovery.gov available in a format (like XML) that developers can use to create mashups and gadgets?
A: Not at this time. But, as new systems are developed to capture the allocations and expenditures under the Act, we plan to make that data available in exportable form.
For those on slower connections, it may take a while to load, but you can see the path of the tornado and the property parcels that sustained damage. The map is still a work in progress, but it’s a good look at just how much damage is in Oklahoma County.
Part of the problem is that the full text of the conference report that reconciles the House and Senate versions of the bill still hasn’t been released. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office did release a summary (PDF link) this morning, though. The transparency watchdogs at the Sunlight Foundation have more on the lack of details.
#tcot (top conservatives on twitter)
#topprog (top progessives)
Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office has its most recent analysis of the Senate version of the bill here. (PDF link)
They’re still preliminary, but you can get a good idea of the widespread reports of destruction from initial reports collected by the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. We collected their reports and compiled them in a searchable map and database here.
You can also access the database from our Your Right to Know page under the “Maps” section.
Following on from Sunday’s story on potholes, we’ve posted an online database and map of more than 3,300 pothole repair requests received by Oklahoma City in 2008. The Oklahoman filed an Open Records request to see the complaints, which were taken from the city’s Pothole Hot Line (631-1111). You can search by month or address for potholes called in by your neighbors.
You can find a link to the database on our Right to Know page under the “Maps” section. Also, don’t forget to check out an online video packaged with the story of a pothole repair ridealong with Oklahoma City street maintenance workers.
Let the “naming and shaming” begin.
If Gov. Brad Henry has his way, tax delinquents could see their names posted online under a proposal unveiled in the Executive budget yesterday called “Open Taxes”
Governor Henry’s budget proposes joining 15 other states that list delinquent taxpayers on the Internet as a collection tool. This program requires contact of delinquent taxpayer to give them the opportunity to satisfy their tax debt or make payout arrangements within a set time period prior to listing on the Internet. The Governor’s budget includes $1.7 million in additional revenue from this program.
Details from Henry’s proposal haven’t been released, so it’s unclear if Oklahoma’s program would include all tax delinquents or just the worst offenders.
Paula Ross, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, said the state brought in more than $115 million from its tax amnesty program last year called “Clean Slate.” (That program survived a constitutional challenge from Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent.)
Meanwhile, a survey from the Federation of Tax Administrators found that states could bring in between $1 million and $127 million in delinquent taxes by posting the names of offenders online.