Government Spending Transparency Improves

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches

Government spending transparency has improved but some states are still lagging behind, according to a report from the US Public Interest Research Group. A new report looks at transparency efforts throughout all fifty states and assigns a grade.

The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut. The states with the lowest grade – an “F” – were Idaho, Alaska, and California. The inclusion of California may surprise some given how many different open data portals seem to spring up throughout California each month. According to the report, California not only received the lowest score, but it has failed entirely in its effort to be a “one-stop shop” for data. Researchers note something we have mentioned before – the proliferation of portals makes finding information more confusing not less. To wit:

“For example, the state produces tax expenditure reports and publishes data on the Employment Training Panel and the Film and Television Production Incentive, but these are not available via a central transparency website, making this valuable information difficult to find for citizens and others who may not already know where to look. It would be relatively easy for California to substantially improve its score by providing clear links to sources of data from a central website.”

Other states have made improvements that caught the eye of researchers in a positive way. Michigan streamlined its transparency data and added functionality to its transparency website, including allowing bulk download of all its data. West Virginia, too, launched a new site with data on projected and actual public benefits of the state’s major subsidy programs.

Still, only 11 states provide checkbook-level information that includes the recipients of each of the state’s most important subsidy programs. No state provides a comprehensive list of government entities outside the standard state budget.

There are some legislative efforts underway to get more information out there. The report notes a bill in South Dakota that would bring the details of public-private-partnerships online. New requirements like those from the Governmental Accounting Board Standards will require state governments to report on how much revenue they are losing to tax abatements and economic development subsidies. Those rules came into force this year, so data will be lagging but is in the pipeline.

The full report is available here.