The 2016-17 General Appropriations Act (GAA), aka the new two-year state budget, weighs in at a grand total of 954 pages—which is longer than Ludwig von Mises’s economic treatise Human Action, almost twice as long as Adam Smith’s foundational book The Wealth of Nations, and more than three times the length of Friedrich Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom.
In other words, the state budget is BIG. And that fact can be a little discouraging for someone interested in learning about how their tax dollars are being spent. But there’s a movement afoot to help people better understand government budgets by visualizing taxes and spending.
In a recent move, the Legislative Budget Board joined a chorus of other communities, including San Marcos, New Braunfels, League City, and Travis County, in considering or adopting a new budget visualization tool aimed at better explaining where the money goes. The tool, as seen below, takes a very complicated document, like the state budget, and converts it into a graphical user interface that can be navigated with one-click drilldowns to details separated by subject area.
Source: Legislative Budget Board
The gradual-but-growing embrace of budget visualization tools by state and local government officials is welcome news, especially for Millennials—i.e. Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s—who have become “the largest generation in the U.S., representing one-third of the total U.S. population in 2013.” Millennials are, of course, more connected and in-tune with the Internet and technology in general than any other generation in history, making it all that much more important to put this information online in an intuitive format.
It’s not just Millennials that stand to benefit though. With greater government transparency comes greater government accountability and opportunity. That is, by making it easier for more eyes to be on state and local government spending, there’s a better chance that one or some of us will discover ways to make government more efficient. And a smaller, more efficient government is a boon for everyone involved.