Georgia PIRG Education Fund
ATLANTA, March 16 – Georgia receives a “C” grade when it comes to openness about government spending, according to Following the Money 2011: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the second annual report of its kind by the Georgia Public Interest Research Group (Georgia PIRG). Included with the report is an interactive online tool that allows users to view what Georgia is doing best and worst compared to other states’ transparency practices.
“The good news is that since last year’s Following the Money report, state governments across the country have become far more transparent about where the money goes,” said Stephanie Ali, program associate at Georgia PIRG, “But Georgia still has a long way to go.”
The leading states with the most open spending are: Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon. Georgia PIRG has created a transparency site improved their site this year by adding a tool enabling visitors to search expenditures by the type of good or service purchased, like many states they still lack information on local and county spending. Points were also lost due to lacks of information on economic development incentives and grants, which list the recipients but not the purpose or program, and information on tax expenditures, which do not detail property taxes, for example.
“This report highlights an important aspect of government accountability and the need for states to actively pursue ways to increase transparency, especially as it relates to tax expenditures,” said Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “Georgia, like many states, enacts tax expenditures and credits annually, and, once in the tax code, they remain there without evaluation or scrutiny. In creating an online information bank that allows checkbook-level information on government spending, lawmakers would be able to evaluate the relevancy and fairness of tax expenditures easily–and, most certainly, concerned citizens would be better equipped to hold elected officials accountable.”
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 40 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. The states with the most transparent spending also include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. Six states have launched brand new transparency websites since last year’s report and many more have made improvements to existing websites. The best state transparency tools were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed information about government contracts, tax expenditures, tax subsidies and economic development incentives.
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.
“Having one of the best transparency website in the nation is important because it would shine a light on Georgia’s government spending,” said Ali, “Given the current severity of our budget problems, Georgians need to be able to follow the money.”
“Making government spending more transparent makes it easier to hold officials accountable for how they are spending our tax dollars,” added Angela Speir Phelps, executive director of Georgia Watch. “It is a fundamental way to give power to the people.”