- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Spending information from five public pension funds is being added to Ohio’s online checkbook website, the state treasurer announced Friday.

Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel said that once the listings go live next year, Ohio will become the first state to provide “checkbook level expenses” of all its pension funds to the public.

“This will be the first time ever that taxpayers, retirees, students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to see how every single penny is being spent in a pension fund,” Mandel said.

Four of the five funds joined the OhioCheckbook.com initiative just this week, following months of talks with Mandel. Those four are: the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the School Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System and the Highway Patrol Retirement System. Mandel said the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund had volunteered first, back in October.

OPERS, the state’s largest pension fund and one of the largest in the U.S., had been sparring with Mandel in recent months after he criticized them for not signing on. It announced its participation Thursday.

“A pension system that is responsible for the stewardship of member and employer contributions must always operate in full view of the public,” OPERS Executive Director Karen Carraher said as part of Mandel’s announcement. “We already present extensive financial information on the OPERS website, and in working with the treasurer in this manner we continue our 80-year legacy of transparency.”

Mandel has made the searchable website of individual government expenses a focus since launching it a year ago. It began with state listings going back to 2008 and has gradually grown to add more than 400 local governments, schools districts and other public entities. Mandel said he hopes to see Ohio’s public universities join the site next year.

The initiative hasn’t been without its controversy. It’s costing the state about $1.3 million a year to build and maintain, and Mandel has chosen not to put what he describes as the “friendly public pressure” associated with the project on all entities equally.

For example, he has asked publicly funded charter schools to participate but not the private companies that operate them whose use of public dollars has been particularly difficult to discern.

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Online: OhioCheckbook.com

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