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Texas ranks first in the nation 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 released by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG).
“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 Ryan Pierannunzi, Tax and Budget Associate with the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), which produced the report. “But Texas still has room for improvement,” he added.
The Comptroller’s Office is responsible for operating the transparency portal in Texas. Officials from the Texas Comptroller’s Office, like officials from 46 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites.
Texas received 98 points out 100 in the scoring. It loses one point for failing to list the purpose of individual state programs that spend through the tax code and one point for failing to report on the outcomes generated by economic development incentives or grants. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites in order are: Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.
Based on an inventory of the content and accessibility of states’ transparency websites, Following the Money 2012 assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The report praised Texas’ user-friendly transparency portal for its relatively comprehensive information on government expenditures, allowing citizens and watchdog groups to monitor state spending quickly and easily.
TexPIRG has been critical in the past of a lack of transparency, especially in state programs for creating private toll roads and dispensing subsidies.
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 Pierannunzi, “Citizens expect information to be at their fingertips the way they can view their cell phone minutes or the location of a package. Putting spending information online helps hold government accountable and allows taxpayers to see where the money goes.”
Eight states have launched brand new transparency websites or 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. The report details how Texas, like many other 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. The report also discusses how the Comptroller’s Office has sought to spur transparency in municipal government by giving awards to cities with the best budget information online.
“Texas will need to keep improving if it wants to stay on top,” said Pierannunzi. “Expectations will continue to rise for how Texans need to be able to follow the money.”
To read the report, click here.
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TexPIRG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens-based advocacy group.
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