Baltimore, March 16 – Maryland got a “C” 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 Maryland Public Interest Research Group (Maryland PIRG). Included with the report is an interactive online tool that allows users to view what Maryland 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 Johanna Neumann, State Director of Maryland PIRG, “But Maryland 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. Maryland has created a transparency site [spending.dbm.maryland.gov]. The report ranks Maryland as “emerging, but still not a leader due to serious deficiencies.” While the Maryland website has added new sets of fiscal data, and does provide detailed information on grant programs and economic development incentives, it falls short on providing historical tax data and very few contracts are available to be viewed online.
“Maryland shouldn’t settle for being a C student,” said Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur. “Though it’s heartening to hear we’re not the class clown, it’s time we worked hard to be the valedictorian in spending transparency.”
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 websites in the nation is important because it would shine a light on Maryland’s government spending,” said Neumann, “Given the current severity of our budget problems, Marylanders need to be able to follow the money.”
“Following the Money shows Maryland fails to disclose key areas of government spending including subsidies and loans to businesses and nonprofits. In a time when the state faces a nearly $2 billion deficit, Marylanders deserve the right to quickly and easily find out where tax dollars are going and assess if they are being used wisely,” said Marta Mossburg, senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.