Following the Money 2016

How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data


PennPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group

State governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year through contracts for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, and other expenditures. Public accountability helps ensure that state funds are spent as wisely as possible. State-operated spending transparency websites provide checkbook-level detail on government spending, allowing citizens and watchdog groups to view payments made to individual companies, the goods or services purchased, and the benefits obtained in exchange for public subsidies. All 50 states operate websites to make information on state expenditures accessible to the public, and in the past year these web portals continued to improve. For instance, all but five states provide checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs and more than half of states make that subsidy data available for researchers to download and analyze. This seventh annual evaluation of state transparency websites finds that states continue to make progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending. In 2015, several states launched new and improved websites to better open the books on public spending, or have adopted new practices to further expand citizens’ access to critical spending information.

Several states, however, continue to lag behind.

Several states have made substantive upgrades to their transparency sites or added new features that give the public unprecedented ability to monitor how their government allocates resources. Of particular note:

•             Michigan streamlined its transparency data and added functionality to its transparency website, including allowing bulk download of all its data.

•             West Virginia launched a new site with data on projected and actual public benefits of the state’s major subsidy programs.

•             Utah and Arizona have joined several other states in adding data from localities, municipalities and school districts to their state transparency portals. This provides an inexpensive way to improve the transparency of the spending that often affects ordinary citizens most directly.

•             Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Washington now prominently feature data on quasipublic entities with web pages dedicated solely to these agencies, boards, authorities and commissions.