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posted: 2/11/2013 5:00 AM

Some state data illegal to give out

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During my years as a newspaper reporter, I used to love digging up public records. I learned early in my career that it is one thing to be told information, but it is even better to sift through public documents when you want to know what is really going on in government.

I never forgot the importance of that lesson when I moved into elected office. It is why as a member of the Illinois General Assembly, I was an early sponsor of our state's first Freedom of Information laws. It is why as state treasurer, and now as comptroller, I have instructed my staff to promptly fulfill any records requests. And it is why I most recently launched the Ledger (www.ledger.illinoiscomptroller.com), an online financial database.

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In recent weeks some have suggested that as comptroller I should also produce a "state checkbook" that documents every dime taxed and spent by Illinois government. In fact, that information request to our office asked for a complete data dump of state financial records. But the state database includes confidential information that the law prohibits from being given out -- Social Security numbers and information about tax refunds, public aid and foster care payments, workers' comp and unemployment checks.

Ledger makes public every state transaction that is allowable under the law. Specifically, the Ledger allows taxpayers to click their way through everything from daily receipts and bill backlog numbers to agency budgets, contracts and expenses. The site also contains a state employee database listing public salaries and new hires.

I encourage Illinois residents to check out the Ledger and let me know what other information would be helpful. It's not enough for the taxpayers to "hear" from government -- they rightly want to see the proof. As a former reporter, I appreciate that.

Judy Baar Topinka

Illinois comptroller

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