Alaska’s dormant government spending database will be resurrected this week

A white woman in a blue blouse speaks in front of a podium in front of several other men
Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka, whose agency maintains the Checkbook Online system, speaks at a 2019 news conference at the Capitol in Juneau. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

After a nearly year-long shutdown of Alaska’s government spending database, GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration said it plans to bring the system back online later this week.

The Checkbook Online system went dark nearly a year ago, leaving the public largely blind to details about state spending, even as Alaska faces a huge budget shortfall.

Dunleavy’s administration said the system lacked what it called internal controls, assurance measures and auditing.

RELATED: Alaska faces a deficit crisis. But its platform for publicly tracking the state budget is broken.

The shutdown left Alaskans without information about how executive branch agencies and the Legislature were spending money on contracts and services. Citizen watchdogs, legislators and reporters regularly mined the postings, using them to point out payments to politically-connected recipients.

Now, the corrected system is in its final testing phase and is expected to be back online by Friday, according to a statement from the Department of Administration, which maintains the database.

“I believe government is ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People.’ It’s supposed to represent, serve, and be accountable to the people,” Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka said in the statement. “For that reason, we are committed to restoring an accurate and transparent Checkbook Online for Alaskans.”

There’s no law requiring the system to be up and running, but a bill proposing one got its first hearing Tuesday in a state Senate committee.

Senate Bill 25, from Anchorage Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski, would also add new features that aren’t available in the old system, like spending details from the state university system and state corporations — among them the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA.

The bill appears to enjoy bipartisan support: At the hearing, Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold said she’s used the checkbook system in the past to identify budget reductions she’s proposed.

“This is a super important bill, and I’m probably going to become a co-sponsor of it,” she said. “If you talk about saving money, I can tell you, I generated dozens and dozens of cuts based on what I saw in this online checkbook.”

Creating the new system would cost some $400,000, according to a fiscal note drafted by Dunleavy’s administration.

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