State’s checkbook to go online, but lawmakers are asking, ‘Why stop there?’

With Gov. M. Jodi Rell‘s signature over the weekend, a new law will put a searchable database of the state’s checkbook and employee payroll online for public review next year.

But some lawmakers are asking, why stop there? Why not put everything online: applications, payments for services, regulations, anything the public needs?

Some state agencies do provide online services, but availability isn’t consistent and quality is spotty, said Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield.

“I’m not saying Connecticut doesn’t have a lot of this already. I am saying though, it’s not sufficient and it’s a roll of the dice what is available from agency to agency,” he said. “Rather than doing this piecemeal, let’s do it right.”

He’s proposing establishment of a uniform statewide online “e-government” plan that will give residents access to state government over the Internet. As a first step, he plans to propose on Thursday a study by the staff of the Program Review and Investigations Committee of what’s being done now in Connecticut, what would be needed to expand services and what other states are doing.

“Other states are so much more user-friendly,” said Kissel, who is co-chairman of the committee. He cited Massachusetts’ online permitting process for businesses as an example. “Say you want to create a business, they have a portal to do it all in one place. Here there are five or six different hoops you have to jump through at different agencies. It’s burdensome.”

“We have no coherent plan to move us forward, one agency is doing it their way and another is doing it another way,” Kissel said, who estimates a statewide system could be up and running in a year.

Rep. Demetrios S. Giannaros, D-Farmington, who proposed the bill now signed into law to put all state expenditures online, agrees with Kissel that the state still has some work to do to become more transparent and accessible.

“This new database is going to change how people think about government. It will make government more cost effective, but why not make it more accessible too?” he said. “There is no reason why all [state] services shouldn’t be online.”

The bipartisan PRI Committee will likely approve the study, but it will be up to the full legislature next session to decide what to do with the idea.

“I think we can do this without reinventing the wheel,” Kissel said. “Hopefully we have support.”

Meanwhile, the online database for all state expenditures moved forward with Rell’s approval of a bill directing the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis to launch the site by July 2011.

“The bottom line – for everyone – is simple: The more information provided to the public, the better,” Rell said in a statement.

The site will mirror a new web site launched by a conservative think tank earlier this year,

Lawmakers have said the state should create its own information database because of inaccuracies on the Yankee Institute for Public Policy’s site.

Giannaros’ interest began when his wife’s salary as a part-time teacher at Tunxis Community College was overstated by $130,000.

But the Yankee Institute has maintained that any inaccuracies are due to errors the information they received from the state’s chief financial officer, Nancy S. Wyman.

Still, they welcome the state’s interest in posting its own data.

“They are spending tax dollars, they should make this available for us to see,” said Fergus Cullen, executive director of Yankee Institute.

Several other states have decided to open their records – including in Utah and Nebraska. In other states, non-profits have taken on the task – including New York and Maine. The federal government lists its expenditures at