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Boston, April 13 – Massachusetts received an “F” for “incomplete” when it came to openness about government spending, according to MASSPIRG in a new state by state report, FOLLOWING THE MONEY: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, released today.
“The good news is that there is a bill currently pending in the House, that if passed would move Massachusetts to the head of the class, bumping Massachusetts from an F to an A,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director. “The bad news is that currently, we are lagging behind 32 other states that post checkbook-level information about government spending on a publicly accessible web site.”
FOLLOWING THE MONEY found that 32 states provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. The best state transparency tools are highly searchable, and include detailed information about government contracts, tax subsidies and special grants to businesses.
An example of a leading state transparency web tool is Open Door Kentucky which allows visitors to easily search and view contracts past and present, to search by contractor or type of activity contracted for, with explanations of the purpose of individual contracts. Tax subsidies and economic development grants are included, as are expenditures by some quasi-public agencies. Similarly, the state of Illinois’ Corporate Accountability Project tracks grants given to companies for job creation – and provides yearly reports signed by the companies of how many jobs were actually created.
States with top-flight transparency websites are saving money, restoring public confidence in government, and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts. States that have created online transparency have done so with little to no new upfront costs.
“Public support necessary to maintain critical government programs—which provide everything from health care for children to maintenance for our roads and bridges—requires that taxpayers can see how their tax revenue is spent,” said Rep. Antonio Cabral, a chief sponsor of the MA budget transparency bill. “Transparency isn’t just good government, it matters to everyone whose lives are made better if government has the resources it needs to do what we ask of it.”
The leading states with the most open spending are: Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Massachusetts received an “F” grade because the state budget website lacks checkbook-level spending detail.
It is important to note that while Massachusetts is behind when it comes to spending detail, it has come a long way over the last few years showing how the state divides up the budget and provides a clear picture of the Commonwealth’s debt situation. Massachusetts has also made unprecedented strides providing online information on spending of federal Economic Recovery dollars, including posting contract information on the state’s publicly accessible Comm-Pass procurement site. These advances have not yet been implemented for state spending more generally.
“We have already made some progress in reporting budget transactions to the public online,” said Senator Cynthia S. Creem, a chief sponsor of the state budget transparency bill. “Now we have the technical tools to make the public a real partner in the oversight of state revenues and expenses, by adding a level of detail that will make our state a model of fiscal transparency.”
Currently pending in the House and drafted based on government transparency best practices, An Act Relative to the Massachusetts Revenues and Expenditures Transparency Act, HB 2972, will allow the public to see check-book level detail of all Massachusetts state spending. The bill directs the Secretary of Administration and Finance to create and maintain a searchable website detailing the costs, recipients, and purposes for all appropriations, including contracts, grants, subcontracts, tax expenditures and other subsidies funded by the state government. The website, available to the public and updated regularly would include state revenue and expenses for all state agencies including the “quasi-public” agencies. The bill was filed by Representatives Jay Kaufman (Lexington) and Antonio Cabral (New Bedford) and Senator Cynthia Creem (Newton) along with 35 other legislative sponsors.
“The watch word of open government is transparency – in all forms. Information about all state spending should be no different, and our citizenry deserve and need no less,” said Representative Jay Kaufman, a chief sponsor of the state budget transparency bill.
MASSPIRG is a member supported nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest organization.
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