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Baltimore, March 19 – Maryland received a “C+” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to Following the Money 2012: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the third annual report of its kind by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (Maryland PIRG).
“State governments across the country continue to be more transparent about where the money goes, extending checkbook-level disclosure of data on spending to contracting, tax subsidies, development incentives and other expenditures,” said Jenny Levin, State Advocate at Maryland PIRG, “But Maryland still has a C+.”
Officials from Maryland and 46 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.
Financial constraints pose challenges for state transparency websites. While a number of states have made significant strides toward greater transparency using existing staff time and resources, many states including Maryland cite fiscal constraints as an impediment to implementing new online features.
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 46 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail, a major increase from 32 states two years ago. Twenty nine state transparency websites now provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits – up from eight states two years ago.
Said Levin, “Citizens expect information to be at their fingertips the way they can view their cellphone minutes or the location of a package. Putting spending information online helps hold government accountable and allows taxpayers to see where the money goes.”
The states with the most transparent spending generally include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. Eight states have launched brand new transparency websites or online tools since last year’s report. Many more have made improvements to existing websites that are documented in the report. The best state transparency tools were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed usable information.
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.
Greg Smith at Community Research said, “Given our state budget problems, Marylanders need to be able to follow the money. This report shows that many states are making public contracts and subsidies more transparent. Maryland needs to catch up. The public has the right to know how the state sets priorities and spends public resources. The legislature and the governor would benefit from good analyses and ideas from engaged individuals and organizations, and they should welcome and facilitate informed participation in the civic process.”
Read the full report here: http://www.marylandpirg.org/reports/mdp/following-money-0
Maryland PIRG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens-based advocacy group
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