NEW REPORT: Georgia Receives “C” in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending
Georgia PIRG Education Fund
Georgia received a “C” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the sixth annual report of its kind by the Georgia Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before, with all but two states allowing users to search the online checkbook by agency, keyword or vendor, or some combination of the three. Likewise, 44 states now provide checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs. Some states have even innovated entirely new features.
“This year, most states have made their budgets more open to the public, allowing users to better scrutinize how the government uses their tax dollars,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst with Georgia Public Interest Research Group. “Georgia, however, has remained stagnant, with a long way to go.”
Officials from Georgia and 46 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 2015” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Montana, New York, Texas, and South Dakota.
Georgia remains a “middling” state again this year, its score unchanged. By failing to prioritize improvement while other states have, Georgia has dropped from 35th in the country to 40th. Next year, in order to keep up with the tide of improvement nationwide, Georgia will need to replicate what it has already done with the largest economic development subsidy in the state, the Economic Development, Growth and Expansion Fund, and expand such disclosures to all of its largest development programs.
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. Georgia’s transparency site was launched and is maintained annually from the existing budget of the Department of Audits and Accounts.
“Open and accessible state budgets are important so that the public can see where its tax dollars are being spent, and hold their state government accountable for its decisions,” said Sunlight Foundation National Policy Manager Emily Shaw. “It’s encouraging to see more states prioritizing open data policies and taking the steps necessary to make their data truly accessible.”
State spending transparency appears to be a non-partisan issue. The report compared transparency scores with a variety of measures of state legislative, gubernatorial or public opinion partisanship and found that neither Republican nor Democratic states tended to have higher levels of spending disclosure.
The state of Ohio topped the rankings, climbing from a “D-” in 2014 to an “A+” this year for its improvements to the Online Checkbook transparency portal. Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel said, “I’m proud to have built OhioCheckbook.com and taken Ohio’s transparency ranking from 46th to 1st in the nation. The work U.S. PIRG’s doing on open government is helping set off a national race for transparency. My office was motivated to participate in this race and we will continue to work with U.S. PIRG and others to empower taxpayers to hold public officials accountable.”
Georgia’s transparency website is operated by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. To visit it, click here: open.georgia.gov
To read the full report: http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2015