The future of a computer system meant to put government information at citizens’ fingertips depends on the outcome of partisan battles in Washington’s Legislature.
House Republicans last week proposed eliminating the newly started information kiosk program by cutting all money for it in the coming budget.
They said taxpayers can’t afford a proposed $1.6 million program that offers services easily obtained by telephone or phone or through other means.
Senate Democrats Wednesday unveiled their budget which contains about $850,000 to keep the project operating. A budget compromise will be negotiated later.
At risk are the state’s 11 information kiosks, installed in malls, a legislative office building, and in one Seattle library at a cost of $460,000 last August. Among them are kiosks at Spokane’s University City and NorthTown malls.
Described as a government version of an automatic teller machine, they’re designed to help provide state citizens quicker access to information and services. It was launched last August after state legislators saw a similar system in California.
Defenders say the system helps people find jobs, track down unclaimed property, identify business assistance programs and locate recreational options in their area. It also can reduce office work among state and county staff.
Eventually, they argued, users would get more than information. In time, people would use the machines to renew license tabs or arrange other government services.
The proposed $1.6 million in the 1995-1997 budget would have been shared among a dozen state agencies using the kiosks as information sources. The largest single item - $755,000 - would have gone to the Department of Licensing to create an automatic way for people to renew vehicle tabs at the kiosks.
Rep. Dale Foreman, R-Wenatchee, said House budget planners decided the money needed to be spent elsewhere.
“We’re not anti-technology. It’s just we’ve found other more important state priorities and we didn’t see this (program) offering as much value for taxpayers,” said Foreman, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Senate Democrats drafting their budget this week restored all the money except the $755,000 for license updating, said Rudy Mazza, a spokesman for the state Department of Information Services.
He suspected opposition from private vendors who issue and renew vehicle licenses for the state helped scuttle the item from the Senate budget.
David Buxton, director of Gonzaga University’s Regional Information Services, said the amount of money to be saved by canning the kiosks isn’t significant.
“I’m sure it would be easy to find other places to find money to run the kiosks,” said Buxton, a member of the state task force looking at how state government makes information available in an electronic format.
Mazza said the future of the kiosks depends on how the Senate’s budget evolves and how its differences with the House budget are resolved.