COST just received word that HB 1252, a bill that would require Colorado’s institutions of higher education to make public financial information accessible online, finally will be heard in the House Appropriations Committee next week. An amended version of sponsor BJ Nikkel’s bill passed the House education committee on February 27.
Sources tell us that the lengthy period between votes has allowed Colorado State University (CSU) and Colorado School of Mines to lobby lawmakers urging them to vote against transparency. Based on our experience, these two schools are incredibly arrogant when it comes to complying with Colorado Open Records Acts (CORA) requests so we aren’t surprised that they do not want taxpayers to have online access to salaries and expenditures.
Our sources close to the situation tell COST that Mines is particularly worried about divulging details of travel expenditures, which prompted us to send Mines a CORA request for the information. Travel expenditure information is available with little detail and no context on the state’s Transparency Online Project Website. We asked for more detailed information. The CORA request is available below. Mines responded that they received the request and would get back in touch when they had a cost estimate.
We’ve also heard that a lobbyist for one of the institutions is warning legislators that the bill will force public disclosure of private donor information. That’s laughable because the bill says nothing of the sort and, furthermore, private donor information is not a matter of public record when given to a non-profit organizations.
What amazes COST is how hard some in higher education are working to kill this bill. They’ve saddled it with a nearly $4 million fiscal note, a well-known trick to kill legislation. Supposedly these institutions represent our best and brightest. To say the least, it is a stretch to believe that institutions boasting noble prize winners, world class research, and hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer grant money, can’t figure out how to put some public information online in a cost effective manner so taxpayers, students, parents, alumni, faculty, and anyone else can see how their money is being utilized.
The question remains which legislators on the House Appropriations Committee will support transparency and which ones won’t. Rep. Nikkel is a Republican, but the vote on this bill may buck conventional wisdom and not fall along party lines. Transparency has an interesting history of garnering both bi-partisan support and bi-partisan opposition depending on the entity.
COST’s take: Rep Nikkel will be able to rely upon at least a couple of democrats to support her in her efforts to bring greater transparency to higher education. In particular, House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino has proven to be a solid supporter of financial transparency measures regardless of the sponsor’s political affiliation. At the same time, some Republicans may vote to kill it. The committee members are listed below:
Chair: Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan)
Vice Chair: Cheri Gerou (R-Evergreen)
Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland)
Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver)
Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs)
Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Gunbarrel)
Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood)
Claire Levy (D-Boulder)
Marsha Looper (R-Monument)
Dan Pabon (D-Denver)
Judy Solano (D-Brighton)
Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling)
Glenn Vaad (R-Mead)
COST will update the status of HB 1252 as soon as the vote is taken.
Full disclosure: Transparency Project director Amy Oliver Cooke testified in favor of the bill when it was heard in the House Education Committee. She was in excellent company with Jessica Peck of the Open Government Institute and University of Colorado Regents Sue Sharkey and Jim Geddes who also testified in favor.