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California Earns “D+” in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending

Sacramento, CA – California gets a “D+” when it comes to openness about government spending, according to Following the Money 2011: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, the second annual report of its kind by the California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (CALPIRG).  Included with the report is an interactive online tool http://www.calpirg.org/follow-the-money-map that allows users to view what California is doing best and worst compared to other states’ transparency practices.

“If Californians look hard enough at the budget voted on today they’ll notice some serious holes in their ability to follow the money,” said Pedro Morillas, CALPIRG Education Fund Policy Director. “Billions of dollars in tax breaks and economic development subsidies are spent every year with no disclosure to the public of who gets them or how much they get.”

The leading states with the most open spending are: Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon.  California has created a transparency site http://www.transparency.ca.gov  but the report ranks California as an “emerging” state due to serious deficiencies.

Interestingly, “Red” states and “Blue” states have both embraced spending transparency. The ranks of leading states are split roughly equally between those that voted Democratic in the last presidential election and those that voted Republican. In fact, the average score of Obama-voting states is almost exactly the same as that of McCain-voting states.

“Whether a state is blue or red has no bearing on its desire to be transparent,” added Morillas.  “This is one of the few budget issues out there without an ideological divide.”

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 40 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.

The states with the most transparent spending also include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. Six states have launched brand new transparency websites since last year’s report and many more have made improvements to existing websites.

The best state transparency tools were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed information about government contracts, tax expenditures, tax subsidies and economic development incentives.

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.

“Having one of the best transparency websites in the nation is important because it would shine a light on California’s government spending,” concluded Pedro Morillas Consumer Advocate at CALPIRG, “Given the current severity of our budget problems, Californians need to be able to follow the money.”

View the full report HERE.

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CALPIRG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens-based advocacy group that stands up to powerful interests on behalf of all Californians.  www.calpirg.org

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