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Arizona received a ‘B’ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to the fourth annual report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data. Arizona’s official state transparency website, OpenBooks, received an ‘A-’ in last year’s report.
“Across the country, states including Arizona have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and businesses that receive public funds accountable,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate with the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “One notable change from our past reports is that while other states have been improving their spending transparency by leaps and bounds, Arizona hasn’t quite kept up.”
Arizona’s ‘A-’ grade from last year fell to a ‘B’ this year as a result of rising grading standards. In order for leading states to stay at the head of the pack with high scores, they must continually improve transparency.
“This report shows that many states are getting impressive results from making government spending more transparent. It’s important for Arizona to continue to provide taxpayers with the information they deserve,” said State Senator Kimberly Yee.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, “Following the Money 2013” assigns each state a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F.’ This year, Arizona earned a ‘B.’ Its checkbook is searchable, easy to access, and contains detailed information on a wide range of state spending. However, Arizona’s website still fails to provide checkbook-level information on economic development tax credits.
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 this data.
One of the most striking findings in this year’s report is that all 50 states now provide at least some checkbook-level detail about individual government expenditures. In 48 states – all except California and Vermont – this information is now searchable. Just three years ago, only 32 states provided checkbook-level information on state spending online, and only 29 states provided that information in searchable form. Thirty-nine state transparency websites now include tax expenditure reports, providing information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits – up from just eight states three years ago.
“Open information about tax dollars is crucial for democratic and effective government,” said Stephen Slivinski, Senior Economist with the Goldwater Institute. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are reasonable and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
The states with the most transparent spending stand out partly because they are comprehensive about the kinds of spending they include, such as data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. The best state transparency tools are highly searchable, engage citizens, and include detailed information – allowing all the information to be put to good use.
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.
“All of the leading transparency states in the report provide detailed information about their granting of special tax credits. Arizona will need to improve its transparency in this area to achieve top scores.” said Unrein.
The state’s transparency website can be accessed at: http://openbooks.az.gov
The report can be downloaded at: http://arizonapirgedfund.org/reports/azf/following-money-2013
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