Seattle Receives a Grade of “C+” for Spending Transparency

Media Contacts
Micaela Preskill

New WashPIRG Report Compares Seattle to Other Major Cities Across America

WashPIRG Foundation

Seattle, WA – Seattle received a grade of “C+” for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by WashPIRG. The report reviews Seattle’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

“Seattle’s current online features shed some light on government expenditures, but there are many ways in which the city falls short of comprehensive spending transparency,” said WashPIRG advocate Micaela Preskill

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.

Seattle’s grade of “C+” reflects the city’s provision of transparency features such as searchable checkbook-level city spending information, which gives citizens a view into where their money gets spent.  However, there is plenty of room for improvement; for example, Seattle should make its checkbook-level spending information downloadable for data analysis and should provide tax subsidy information that lists the benefits specific companies receive from the city’s tax credits, exemptions and abatements.

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. Five cities received failing grades, indicating that they offer little or no spending data online: Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Cleveland.

“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 Preskill.

“Taxpayers should be able to easily find details on how government spends their money whether at the federal, state, or local level,” said Jason Mercier, Government Reform Director for the Washington Policy Center. “While it is encouraging to see Seattle make efforts to provide budget details, the report identifies additional opportunities for the city to provide a truly one-stop searchable resource for taxpayers.”

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 Seattleites hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent,” added Preskill.

The new study extends WashPIRG’s annual reporting on state government transparency, which since 2010 has compared Washington’s spending transparency to the other 49 states: 2012 Following the Money report.