Money Watchers: How to prevent more taxpayer blunders

This week, the NBC 10 Money Watchers highlighted how Rhode Island wasted $85.4 million of taxpayer money on four projects.

Whether it was a contract for new computers at the state Division of Motor Vehicles or a leaky roof at the state Training School, Rhode Island suffers from a lack of leadership and accountability, says John Simmons from the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

"It comes from the top. It comes from leadership from the governor and others right down to the person who has a day-in-day job," Simmons said.

Transparency too, he says. Secret deals like the 38 Studios program that was snuck past the legislature contribute to massive mistakes that cost taxpayers money.

But transparency has come a long way in the state.

Thom Guertin, the state's first director of digital excellence, has built a website that has state contracts and salaries online for anyone to see. He is now working to get the state's tax system modernized.

"We just launched the first phase in July, which was on time and on budget,"Guertin said.

Equipment is taking tax returns and scanning them, putting the system into the digital age.

"It will cut out all those processes where you have to walk in, meet face to face to pay your taxes, as well as much more efficient at getting refunds and returns," Guertin said.

Soon more state forms will be digitized, and he's hoping to create an e-permit system to simplify and shorten the process of getting permits for buildings.

Already employment applications have moved beyond the paper phase and now take 40 days instead of 118 days.

It's one way Rhode Island can be more efficient and make fewer blunders going forward.