Maryland received a B+ when it comes to online transparency in government spending, 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 Maryland Public Interest Research Group Foundation. The state’s grade has changed only marginally since last year.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before with all but two states providing checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs and more than half of states making that subsidy data available for researchers to download and analyze. Several states achieved perfect or near perfect scores based on this year’s criteria.
“Maryland has room to improve on transparency of economic development subsidies and traditionally off-budget spending,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr.
Officials from Maryland 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 leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut.
Maryland’s capacity to disclose details about economic development subsidies like the Job Creation Tax Credit is limited by the structure of subsidy and Maryland state laws preventing disclosure of corporate tax information. The state would also benefit from adding a search by category feature, which would greatly improve the usability of the site.
“States’ online spending transparency efforts are paying off in better informed citizens and a more efficient government,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Our research found that top-ranked states have been making steady improvements to their transparency websites over the years, giving citizens in most states unprecedented access to information on where their tax money goes.”
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. Maryland officials reported that their transparency portal cost $65,000 to create and $5,000 to maintain annually.
Maryland’s transparency website is operated by the Department of Budget and Management. To visit it, click here: www.spending.dbm.maryland.gov.
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