New York City has opened up a look inside its ledger. Checkbook NYC, released by city comptroller John Liu yesterday, sets up users to search and download some top-level details on the money spent by the city each day. Liu's office reports that some $35 billion in city spending since the first of the year is accounted for on the new site.
Online App Tracks New York City Spending -- Including Bloomberg's Car-Service Tab - Metropolis -By Aaron Rutkoff and Michael Howard Saul - WSJ:
Downloading every item of New York City’s spending — there’s an app for that.
City Comptroller John Liu released a searchable online database of every disbursement made by New York City in 2010. To date, the database has over $35 billion in city spending.
The project, called “Checkbook NYC,” is an extension of an initiative launched by Liu’s predecessor, William Thompson, to log every city contract in an open database. The next step, slated for completion by the end of the year, will measure each agency’s contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses.
So how long does it take to expose somewhat embarrassing information about city spending after the launch of this new online tool? Less than one day. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office spent $2,064.96 at K & D Liquors, $325.96 at the Lobster Place and $201.62 at H&H Bagels.
According to the website, the office of the mayor’s food and drink bill totaled more than $50,000 during the first six months of this year. Nearly $25,000 was spent on office equipment and maintenance. More than $55,000 on travel.
Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said the food bill for the mayor’s office is mostly attributed to events at Gracie Mansion. The mayor doesn’t live there but holds events at the Upper East Side mansion often.
Roughly 70% of the costs of entertaining at Gracie Mansion are paid for with private dollars, LaVorgna said. “Gracie Mansion is a city facility — there is a cost to it,” he added. “There are hundreds of events there. It’s not like this is for food in the office.”
Beyond food expenses, there’s the matter of car-service spending. The mayor’s budget staff has spent more than $10,000 on car services so far this year, the Associated Press found, despite Bloomberg’s avowed dedication to commuting by subway.
And the budget staff wasn’t even the biggest spender for car services: Law department staffers have spent $66,000 on car-service rides this year.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office spent a total of $5,500 on three alcohol purchases at a liquor store on the Upper East Side. The New York City Board of Elections spent more than $472,000 on car service over five months.
As of July 1, the city has spent in this calendar year exactly $40,733,960,217.46.
That is just a sample of the spending details that can be found on a new Web site unveiled on Thursday by John C. Liu, the city comptroller. Mr. Liu said he wanted to make it easier for New Yorkers to find out how taxpayer money is spent, or perhaps misspent.
More transparency, Mr. Liu added, could lead to more responsible spending by all city agencies, including his own.
“It’s about open government, intrinsic accountability and creating strong incentives towards saving taxpayer money,” he said at a news conference in Manhattan. Mr. Liu’s office, for example, has so far this year spent $200,000 on postage. That might seem high, but a spokeswoman said that was reasonable since the office produced reams of paperwork.
The online database, named Checkbook NYC, allows users to search and download expenditures by agency, the name of a payee, the purpose and the amount. The database will be updated daily and uses the city’s financial management system to record all city expenditures, Mr. Liu said.
The database cost about $320,000 to produce and will cost $70,000 a year to maintain, Mr. Liu said — those costs can also be found in the database.
Not everything can be found there. The names of some individual payees are left out because the payments involve salary or expense reimbursements. Depending on legal concerns, the office hopes in the future to be able to disclose the names of every city worker and the gross amount of his or her paycheck, Mr. Liu said.
Mr. Bloomberg’s office spent about $2,000 on each of the three purchases at K & D Liquors on Madison Avenue near 96th Street this year. The alcohol, as with most food purchased by the office, is for various events held by different groups at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, said Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg. The mayor does not live at the mansion.
Though the bills were paid using taxpayer money, most of it was reimbursed by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a nonprofit that uses private money to support public programs, according to the mayor’s Web site. Sometimes the group involved in hosting the event will pick up part of the cost, Mr. LaVorgna said.
The bill paid by the Board of Elections to two car service companies is a result of an agency policy to provide workers with car service home if they work more than 12 hours a day, said Valerie Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the board. Car service is provided so that workers can get home safely, Ms. Vazquez said.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a government watchdog, praised the new database, saying that agencies are more likely to pay greater attention to the way they spend money if more eyes are watching them.
“Once it becomes a matter of course,” she said, “it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.”