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Connecticut received a B 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 ConnPIRG 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 Abe Scarr, Director of the ConnPIRG Education Fund. "Connecticut has taken some positive steps this year to keep up with the rising transparency standards, and we're hoping that Connecticut takes further steps to become a national leader."
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said, “This report recognizes Connecticut’s important accomplishments this year – particularly related to transparency surrounding state economic assistance, and the new Connecticut Open Data portal. The improved grade is a statement about Connecticut’s hard work towards open government, but also about the need to do much more. There is never a finish line for open government – only a perpetual work in progress – so I look forward to continuing the discussion and working on new ways to expand public access to important government financial information and data.”
Officials from Connecticut and 44 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 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 an "Advancing state," Connecticut's checkbook is searchable by recipient, keyword and agency. However, few Advancing States provide information on the funds recouped from subsidy recipients who fail to deliver on the agreed-upon public benefits.
Through two executive orders from Governor Malloy in recent months, Connecticut has expanded the transparency of economic development subsidies, and created a nation-leading open data portal. Some economic development spending, particularly tax credits administered by the Department of Revenue Services, are still not as transparent as in other states. Grading standards rise each year, so states need to improve transparency each year to be a leader.
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 Scarr. “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 Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis with data from the Office of the State Comptroller. To visit the site, click here: http://www.osc.ct.gov/openCT.html
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