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Report Card Ranks 50 States on Transparency of Spending


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By: United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG)

March 14, 2012 - In Following the Money 2012: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, researchers at the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) graded all 50 states on how well they provide online access to information about government spending. States were given "A" to "F" grades based on the characteristics of the online transparency systems they have created to provide information on contracts, subsidies and spending at quasi-public agencies.

"State governments across the country continue to be more transparent about where the money goes, extending checkbook-level disclosure of data on spending to contracting, tax subsidies, development incentives and other expenditures," explained Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst for Tax and Budget Policy at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report. "But most states still have a lot of room for improvement."

Among the findings in the report:

In 2011, eight states created new transparency websites: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, and West Virginia.

· Seven states garnered "A" grades. These "leading" states – Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona – provide information that is highly searchable, and include detailed data about government contracts, tax subsidies and grants to businesses.

· Five "failing" states received an "F" grade, because they lack important information that allows residents to monitor state spending. Four of these states don't provide checkbook-level information about government spending.

· Democratic and Republican-leaning states perform equally well when it comes to transparency this year. The average score for a Democratic-leaning state (determined by political party of the current governor) was 70.2, while that of a Republican-leaning state was 68.9, a difference of less than two points.

The report, Following The Money 2012: How The 50 States Rate In Providing Online Access To Government Spending Data, is the third annual study from U.S. Public Interest Research Group on state spending transparency. The group reached out to public officials responsible for providing transparency information and received substantive feedback from officials in 47 states.

This year's report found that 46 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with "checkbook-level" detail, a major increase from 32 states two years ago. Twenty nine state transparency websites now provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits – up from eight states two years ago.

Said Baxandall, "Citizens expect information to be at their fingertips the way they can view their cell phone minutes or the location of a package. Putting spending information online helps hold government accountable and allows taxpayers to see where the money goes."

States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost. In fact, states with top-flight transparency websites actually save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government, and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.

"It is important to continually strive to improve the state's transparency website because it shines a light on government spending," said Baxandall. "Given our budget problems, American taxpayers need to be able to follow the money."

To read the report, click here.

 

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