The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has given Washington state a grade of “B” for the quality of its online public information about how and where the state spends its money.
That grade is a big improvement from the red “F” pinned to our state’s duncecap by the group last year. Here is the press release from US PIRG, a non-partisan group, with links to the report outlining the performance of all 50 states.
Begin press release:
Washington received a “B” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to Following the Money 2012: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the third annual report of its kind by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG).
“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,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst for Tax and Budget Policy at U.S. PIRG. “Washington and West Virginia improved more than any other states in the nation last year, but they still have plenty of room for improvement.”
Officials from Washington and 46 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.
Based an inventory of the content and accessibility of states’ transparency websites, Following the Money 2012 assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The report describes Washington as an “advancing state” because it has established a transparency website that is user-friendly and searchable, but lacks the breadth of information characteristic of leading states’ websites. For example, the website does not include historical expenditures or information on off-budget agencies. Nonetheless, Washington made marked improvements since last year’s report, in which it received an “F.”
Washington is taking the lead on providing mapping tools that allow the public to see how specific areas of the state benefit from government spending. The state’s transparency website includes an interactive mapping tool with the exact locations of state-funded construction projects.
Since last year’s Following the Money report, there has been remarkable progress across the country with new states providing online access to government spending information and several states pioneering new tools to further expand citizens’ access to government spending information.
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.”
The states with the most transparent spending generally include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. Eight states have launched brand new transparency websites since last year’s report. Many more have made improvements to existing websites that are documented in the report. The best state transparency tools were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed usable information.
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.
“The state of Washington should continually improve access to online information about government spending,” said Baxandall. “Given the state’s budget problems, Washingtonians need to be able to follow the money.”