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Senator Warner wants state and local governments to be more transparent with financial data

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks during a Congressional hearing.
Andrew Harnik
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks during a Congressional hearing.

One Virginia senator is hoping to increase financial transparency for state and local governments.

Getting your hands on a financial statement from your local government can be difficult. And then once you've finally been able to track it down, sometimes the document is not formatted in a way where you can search the text.

Judi Willard at Truth in Accounting says it can be really frustrating.

"Sometimes in these documents, they literally put a picture of a number. It's a JPEG. You can't search where they got that number," Willard says. "It's just, 'Oh, here's the number. It's a picture of a number.' Well, that looks really pretty on the document. But we want to know where did you come up with that number?"

That's why Senator Mark Warner introduced the Financial Data Transparency Act, which would require state and local governments submit their financial statements in a machine readable format.

Marc Joffee at the Reason Foundation says corporations have already been doing this for years.

"This type of disclosure, the machine readable disclosure, is something that has been required of corporations by the Securities and Exchange Commission since 2009," explains Joffee. "And I think 13 years later, it's high time that state and local governments follow."

The bill has already passed the House, although it has not yet been added to the Senate calendar.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.