Des Moines, March 16 – Iowa got an “F” 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 Iowa Public Interest Research Group (Iowa PIRG). Included with the report is an interactive online tool that allows users to view what Iowa 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 Sonia Ashe, Advocate at Iowa PIRG, “The bad news is Iowa has fallen far behind the rest of the country, and has yet again failed to shine sunlight on the public purse. Especially as Iowa debates steep cuts to our budget, Iowans need the ability to watchdog our government and ensure their tax dollars are spend effectively.”
The leading states with the most open spending are: Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon. These states provided online tools that were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed information about government contracts tax expenditures, tax subsidies and economic development incentives.
Iowa received an “F” grade because it lacks a website with ”checkbook-level” detail. However, after this legislative session, we might look forward to a higher grade in the future with the passage of a bill that creates a searchable database allowing Iowans to finally track the who, what, when and where of their tax dollars.
While this is good news for Iowans, there are still concerns that Iowa’s newly designed transparency website doesn’t go far enough. “Any searchable database must include easily accessible and complete information on tax credits and exemptions as well as information on other state spending,” said Victor Elias representing the Coalition for a Better Iowa.
Others wonder if this step forward is coupled with another step back with the proposed shift of power to the quasi-public Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress (IPEP) that would allow private donations for economic development projects to be kept in the dark. With other states dealing with pay-to-play contracts that allow private interests to make tax deductable donations that are then turned back into public subsidies – there is good reason for concern.
“If our government officials are truly motivated to make Iowa a fully transparent state, then any spending through the private sector of the IPEP would be made available for public scrutiny,” said Ashe. “With the track record of corruption in other states from quasi-public development agencies, the spending of private funds should be held to the same standards of transparency as other spending in order to build public confidence.“
Luckily, there is still plenty of hope for improvement in Iowa. As the report “Following the Money” makes clear, states across the country have already found ways to tackle obstacles to transparency in government spending that can serve as good examples. Even Indiana, who had trouble with their quasi-public development agency in the paste, has found ways to clean up their act – now establishing them as a leading state in transparency.
“This report shows that many states are getting impressive results from making contracts and subsidies more transparent,” said Ashe. “Iowa shouldn’t just catch up with other states in transparency, we should work to get in the lead.”
Iowa PIRG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens-based advocacy group that works for consumer rights in the face of powerful special interests. For more information about Iowa PIRG, visit our website at http://www.iowapirg.org