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New Report: Texas Receives an “A-” in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending
AUSTIN — Texas received an A- when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fifth annual report of its kind by the TexPIRG Education Fund.
“State governments across the country have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and recipients of public subsidies accountable,” said Sara E. Smith, , Program Director with the TexPIRG Education Fund. "We're hoping that Texas continues to be a leader."
"Texas has become a pioneer in financial transparency due to our hard work. We began putting financial information on the web the first week I took office in January 2007, and we have continued to add more data giving residents insight to how their tax dollars are spent," said Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. "Taxpayers pay the freight for state and local government spending decisions and confidence in government erodes if citizens are unable to easily access information on expenditures and finances. I am proud other states are looking to Texas to learn how to shine a light on government debt and spending."
The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Indiana, Florida, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2014” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” Described in the report as a "Leading state," Texas has created a user-friendly website that provides visitors with accessible information on an array of expenditures. Leading States also provide visitors with recipient-specific information on subsidy awards.
This is the fifth consecutive year that Texas’ transparency website earned a grade in the top five states. Grading standards rise each year, so states need to improve transparency each year to be a leader.
Smith pointed out, “Texas’s score of 91 was a fall from last year’s 95, but that doesn't mean the Comptroller's site didn't improve. The transparency improvements simply didn’t keep pace with rising standards, improved technological capacity and growing public expectations around the country. The “Following the Money” report demonstrates that 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 this data. While many states continue to improve, the states that most distinguished themselves as leaders in spending transparency are those that provide access to otherwise unscrutinized areas of expenditure. Six states provide public access to checkbook-level data on the subsidy recipients for each of the state’s most important economic development programs, allowing citizens and public officials to hold subsidy recipients accountable by listing the public benefits that specific companies were expected to provide and showing the benefits they actually delivered. The most transparent states similarly provide detailed information on subsidies spent through the tax code, on economic development subsidies, and “off-budget” quasi-public agencies.”
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” said Smith. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
At least eight states have launched brand new transparency websites since last year’s report, and most made improvements that are documented in the report.
States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost. In fact, top-flight transparency websites can save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
State spending transparency is a non-partisan issue. The report compared transparency scores with a variety of measures of which party rules the state legislative, or sits in the Governor’s office, or how public opinion tilts in the states. Neither Republican nor Democratic states tended to have higher levels of spending disclosure.
The state’s transparency website, is operated by Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts’ Office. To visit the site, click here: www.texastransparency.org.
To read the TexPIRG Education Fund report, click here: http://www.texpirgedfund.org/reports/txf/following-money-2014
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