Kansas City Receives a “C” Grade for Spending Transparency

Media Contacts
Alec Sprague

Director, New Member Strategies, The Public Interest Network

New MoPIRG Report Compares Kansas City to Other Major Cities Across America

MoPIRG Foundation

KANSAS CITY – Kansas City received a “C” grade for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by MoPIRG. The report reviews Kansas City’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

“Kansas City’s current online features shed some light on government expenditures, but there remain many ways in which the city falls short of comprehensive spending transparency.” said Alec Sprague, Field Organizer for MoPIRG.

The report, “Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America’s Largest Cities,” reviews and grades the nation’s thirty largest cities on how effectively they allow the public to track budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services.

Kansas City’s grade of “C” reflects the city’s provision of features such as downloadable checkbook-level city spending information, which gives citizens a view into where money is being spent.  However, there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, Kansas City should make its checkbook-level spending information searchable by city department, keyword, and vendor, and should develop a one-stop transparency website to centralize city spending information and make it easier for citizens to access such information.

The report found that 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Three cities received “A” grades and lead the pack in delivering easy-to-access, encompassing information on government spending: New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Saint Louis and four other cities received failing grades, indicating that they offer little or no spending data online.

“The ability to see how government spends its funds is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility,” said Sprague.

The report makes a series of recommendations for cities to follow in order to achieve spending transparency, including:

• Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.

• Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.

• Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.

• Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.

• Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.

• Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.

“City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health.  Spending transparency can help Kansas City residents hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent,” added Sprague.

The new study extends MoPIRG’s annual reporting on state government transparency, which since 2010 has compared Missouri’s spending transparency to the other 49 states: http://mopirg.org/reports/mop/following-money-2012

The “Transparency in City Spending” report can be downloaded at http://mopirgfoundation.org/reports/mof/transparency-city-spending.