Here’s something I came across this morning that might truly depress you (and your grandkids, whether they’ve been born or not).
The U.S. Debt Clock, a real-time counter of debt, taxes and other economic indicators.
Now, you might want to take this with a grain of salt, because they don’t reveal their sources, but it’s a fun thing to look at.
The U.S. Treasury releases its own debt figures, “down to the penny,” here.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., isn’t shy about railing on the spending habits of government.
My colleague Chris Casteel has a story today about Coburn sponsoring a Senate amendment to post online the office and salary expenses of all senators. It follows previous calls for the same from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Here’s the text of Coburn’s amendment:
SEC. lll. REPORTING REQUIREMENT.
Section 105(a) of the Legislative Branch
Appropriations Act 1965 (Public Law 88-454; 2
U.S.C. 104a) is amended—
(1) in the last sentence of paragraph (1), by
striking ‘‘shall’’ and inserting ‘‘may’’; and
(2) by adding at the end the following:
‘‘(6) Beginning with the report covering the
first full semiannual period of the 112th Congress,
the Secretary of the Senate—
‘‘(1) shall publicly post on-line on the
website of the Senate each report in a
searchable, itemized format as required
under this section;
‘‘(2) shall issue each report required under
this section in electronic form; and
‘‘(3) may issue each report required under
this section in other forms at the discretion
of the Secretary of the Senate.’’.
Here’s what Coburn said on the Senate floor:
Mr. President, this is a very simple amendment. It says we will take the money we spend and make available online to the American people how we spent it. Right now, there are a limited number of books published. We transfer it from computers to a book, but we don’t give it to the American people so they can see how we are spending money on our office accounts. Senators Nelson of Nebraska and Reid have graciously said they support this amendment. We will have limited debate.
The one way to get this spending under control in our individual offices, as well as in the Federal Government, is to make available to the American people how we spend it. So my hope is this will be a short period of time, and at the end of this year, the American people can go on a Web site and see how Tom Coburn spent his money, in terms of running the office of the junior Senator from Oklahoma. I think they will find I am as frugal with their money in my office as I am trying to be frugal on the floor when it comes to wasteful spending. There is $350 billion worth of waste that will go through this year, without one stroke of it being eliminated–$350 billion worth of waste and not one legitimate stroke will be eliminated as we go through the Appropriations Committees and the President’s budget–and he is trying to eliminate some. But we won’t even do a line-by-line review.
I hope we will accept this amendment and lead by example, and the American people can hold us accountable for how we spend their money.
After reading the amendment, I’m hopeful that the Senate won’t go down the same path as the House in this issue. The House plans to release its expenses online, but in PDF form. That is great for Web distribution and reading, but pretty terrible if you want to analyze the numbers using a spreadsheet or other software. The Senate’s amendment mentions “searchable” and “itemized,” which I hope means a better format than a PDF.
In case you missed it over the long holiday weekend, we had a story in Friday’s paper about taxpayer money being used to settle a legal case involving the state Labor Department.
The point of the story wasn’t so much the amount of the settlement (which was still fairly hefty at $200,000) as it was about these kinds of out-of-court settlements taking place outside of the public eye.
My colleague, Nolan Clay, covered the original story back in May. The parties settled a week before the case was set to go to trial in federal court. But neither side disclosed the amount the state–taxpayers, actually–had to pay the plaintiff, citing “confidentiality agreements.”
One of my duties as Database Editor is to maintain the internal databases we use to supplement our reporting. Each month, I download hundreds of thousands of state financial records from the Office of State Finance under a longstanding Open Records request. Included in those records is a database of all the warrants, or checks, that state agencies send to vendors and other parties.
Some of these vendor payments show up on the state’s Open Books site. But the level of detail isn’t always enough to track exactly why these payments are made. So when we started trying to find out the Labor Dept. legal settlement, we turned to our own data download.
As an example, here’s what a typical warrant search yields:
In this case, I found a $100,000 payment in May from the state Labor Department to the Department of Central Services, whose Risk Management division pays most legal claims for the state. That $100,000 payment was the Labor Department’s highest of the 2009 fiscal year and was suspiciously round, unlike most of the warrants that I come across. Using another search, I then found the $200,000 payment going out in May from the Department of Central Services to the plaintiff in the case, Laurie Allen, and her attorneys.
But I still needed more confirmation of the actual amount and which agency paid for what share of the settlement. Using the information culled from the warrants database, I called up both the Department of Central Services and the Office of State Finance and requested paper copies of the checks and their associated invoices. The attorneys still weren’t talking, but we had enough to show how much Oklahoma taxpayers were on the hook for in the legal settlement.
The latest estimates for city populations came out today from the Census Bureau, and they show rapid growth in the outlying suburbs of the state’s two largest cities. (Read the national press release here.)
We included a number of charts with today’s paper version of the story. I also posted an online database on our Right to Know page so you can search the latest population estimates of almost 600 cities in Oklahoma.
Of course, the latest estimates showed continued growth in suburban cities. But growth was also fairly good in Oklahoma City, which gained about 45,000 people since 2000. That’s a growth rate of 9 percent. By contrast, Tulsa lost about 7,000 people, a drop of 2 percent, in the same time period.
There’s wasn’t much room in the story to go into detail on this point, but here’s a look at Oklahoma City and Tulsa population over the years 1920 to 2008. Both cities almost doubled in size in the years of the Oil Boom in the 1920s. The Dust Bowl and Great Depression then took their toll in the 1930s. By the 1970s, the cities were fairly close in size. The population gap has only widened since then.
Oklahoma City and Tulsa population, 1920 to 2008
Source: U.S. Census historical records
As for the other cities in the state, here’s a look at how they stack up in a bubble chart. The bigger the circle, the bigger the city. This helps you see the relative size of each city to others in the state. You can also select your city from the alphabetical list to the left of the bubbles.
Another type of visualization is a tree map. Here’s what the latest population estimates look like using a tree map. In this one, the boxes are relative to the size of each city, and the color shade shows the intensity of each city’s growth rate or decline.