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Report: Maryland gets an “F” for economic development transparency

More than a third of states received an “F," but only three states rank lower than Maryland
for Immediate Release

Baltimore -- Maryland received an “F” for making critical information about economic development subsidies readily available to the public online, according to a new report from Maryland PIRG Foundation and Frontier Group. Following the Money 2019, the organization’s tenth evaluation of online government spending transparency, gives Maryland and 16 other states a failing grade, while only four states received a grade of “B” or higher.

Maryland received an “F” grade because the state does not have comprehensive tax expenditure and grants reports available online, nor state laws requiring ongoing reporting of information on economic development subsidies to the public. In addition, Maryland’s online portal for tax spending does not include tools to decipher which payments are grants versus other forms of spending.

"As taxpayers, we should be able to see how government spends our money down to the dime," said Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG Foundation Director. "That includes the billions of dollars that state and local governments give away each year to lure businesses into their backyards."

Maryland PIRG Foundation and Frontier Group’s Following the Money reports have evaluated states on online spending transparency since 2010. While many states have made progress towards providing citizens access to government spending information online, this year’s report finds economic development reporting is still lagging behind.

"It's often easier for citizens to see when a state hands a company $50 for printer ink than when it hands a company a million dollars to relocate its headquarters," said R.J. Cross, report lead author and policy analyst at Frontier Group. "States have moved light years ahead in the last decade when it comes to providing information on basic government spending online. But when it comes to economic development subsidies, most are still in the dark ages."

The report graded each state’s transparency efforts from “A” to “F” based on the availability of online reports detailing how much the state spends through tax breaks and direct grant programs; the availability of information on individual payments to companies on the state’s transparency site; and the existence of state laws that require ongoing reporting of information on economic development subsidies to the public.

“Transparency checks corruption and enables citizens to hold their elected officials accountable,” finished Cross. “Without access to information, it’s impossible to know how fully these corporate subsidies are serving the public’s interest.”

"I’m very disappointed in Maryland for ranking near the bottom on transparency for economic development subsidies,” said Scarr. “But with so much opportunity for improvement, there’s nowhere to go but up.”

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Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.

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