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Des Moines, March 14 – Iowa once again received an “F” 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 Iowa Public Interest Research Group (Iowa 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 Sonia Ashe, Advocate at Iowa PIRG “But Iowa still has an “F” – making it one of the 4 least transparent states when it comes to government spending.”
Officials from Iowa 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.
Based 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 describes Iowa as a "failing state" because it is one of the four states that still lacks a website with checkbook-level detail.
Last year, Iowa’s lawmakers passed legislation to begin developing a searchable website to track government spending. The website is currently still under construction and is not expected to be completed by the end of this year. Iowa PIRG intends to work with the Department of Management as Iowa’s new website is developed, an effort that will help improve Iowa’s grade for next year’s Following the Money report.
“We still have a lot of catching up to do,” said Ashe.
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 Ashe, “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.
“The improvement of the state's transparency website should be a top priority, because it would shine a light on Iowa's government spending,” said Ashe, “Given our state budget problems, Iowan’s need to be able to follow the money.”
Iowa PIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy organization that stands up to powerful special interests for the public interest. For more information, visit our website at http://www.iowapirg.org
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