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California once again received an F when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2016: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the seventh annual report of its kind by California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before with all but two states providing checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs and more than half of states making that subsidy data available for researchers to download and analyze. Several states achieved perfect or near perfect scores based on this year’s criteria.
“California fails to provide average citizens with comprehensive, easily searchable data on government contracts and spending ,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG Education Fund. “You shouldn’t have to be an expert to be able to follow your tax dollars through California’s government. Over the course of seven years, most states have made significant transparency improvements. Despite being home to Silicon Valley, California ranks LAST of all 50 states this year.”
Officials from 43 states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. California elected not to respond to the request for feedback.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2016” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut.
California’s transparency website struggles with data fragmentation and user accessibility. The site is not easily searchable, and important data sets about the state’s largest economic development subsidies are not accessible through the central portal. The state collects and posts significant amounts of data about subsidies, but fails to compile that data in a way that an ordinary citizen might find useful.
“States’ online spending transparency efforts are paying off in better informed citizens and a more efficient government,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Our research found that top-ranked states have been making steady improvements to their transparency websites over the years, giving citizens in most states unprecedented access to information on where their tax money goes.”
States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost. In fact, top-flight transparency websites can save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
To compare California’s fragmented, hard-to-search information with an “A” state, check out Ohio’s website here: www.ohiotreasurer.gov/transparency/home
Click here to read the full report: Following the Money 2016.
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