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Massachusetts receives an “A” when it comes to online 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 MASSPIRG Education Fund.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before. All but two states provide checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs and more than half of states make that subsidy data available for researchers to download and analyze. Several states achieved perfect or near perfect scores based on this year’s criteria.
“Massachusetts continues to be a leader in providing information on state spending in an easy to use online format,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director.
Legislature Must Raise the Grade for Public Records Transparency, Just Like for State Spending
Massachusetts’ success in making the state’s finances visible and accessible to the public serves as an example of state government moving from a broken or failing system to a leading one.
When MASSPIRG Education Fund released their first report on state government spending transparency in 2010, so little spending data was available online that the Commonwealth was graded an ‘F.’ After steady improvement, two years ago the state reached near the top of our 50 state spending transparency survey with an A.
Despite this progress, Massachusetts consistently receives failing grades for its weak public records law.
To remedy this lack of transparency, MASSPIRG supports the passage of a strong public records reform bill. Legislation has passed both the Massachusetts House and Senate and a conference committee is currently ironing out their differences.
“We hope we will see major improvement in our public records law to match our progress on state spending transparency,” said Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “We have a long way to go from being near last in the nation on public records access.”
“We’d like to see substantial progress in three main areas of the law: adding enforcement ‘teeth’ so that the law is obeyed, containing costs so that average citizens can obtain records, and ensuring timely responses to records requests,” added Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts.
“Improving our broken public records law is not only necessary for good government – but is completely doable,” said Cummings.
State Spending Transparency
Officials from Massachusetts and 43 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites.
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 top states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut.
Massachusetts’ grade is unchanged from last year. The state loses points because it fails to disclose the projected and actual public benefits for some of its largest economic development subsidies. However, Massachusetts continues to be a leader in quasi-public agency transparency, which is a traditionally murky area of state spending.
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.
Massachusetts’ spending transparency website is operated by the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. To visit it, click here: http://www.mass.gov/informedma/
The Public Records bill H 3858/S 2127 has been pending in Conference Committee since February 11, 2016.
To read the full report: http://masspirg.org/reports/map/following-money-0
To view a factsheet on the report: http://masspirg.org/resources/map/following-money-2016-factsheet
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