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Jason Donofrio,
Arizona PIRG Education Fund

With State Deadline Passed, Advocates Issue Own Transparency Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Last summer, after the state legislature overwhelming passed SB 1235, a bill requiring the development of a searchable database for state expenditures, then-Governor Napolitano signed the bill into law.

According to the law, the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) was to issue a report by September 1, 2009, detailing progress toward creation of a governmental transparency system, which is to be accessible to the public at no charge and include a complete database of all state budget contracts by January 1, 2011.

However, when the deadline for the initial transparency report passed, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund issued its own report and stated that given the problems with Arizona’s budget, it is important that the state move swiftly to implement this law as quickly as possible and that it include the strongest best practices.

“While we understand deadlines sometimes shift due to other priorities, the ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Budget transparency checks corruption, bolsters public confidence in government, and promotes fiscal responsibility,” stated Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.

According to Transparency 2.0, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s report, a growing number of states are using powerful Internet search technology to make budget transparency more accessible than ever before. Legislation and executive orders around the country are lifting the electronic veil on where tax dollars go. Arizona is one of more than 25 states which require citizens be able to access a searchable online database of government expenditures. These states have come to define “Transparency 2.0” – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. Many of these web portals are already up and running.

Brown stated that in the private sector, Internet search technology has revolutionized the accessibility and transparency of information such as the ability to track deliveries online, check cell phone minutes and compare real estate on the Web. But until recently, when it came to tracking government expenditures online, taxpayers were left in the dark.

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund reviewed how current Arizona policy compares to best practices among Transparency 2.0 states that have upgraded their budget transparency systems. The report makes the case that Arizona must seize the opportunity to become a leader of the nationwide movement of state governments enhancing budget transparency in order to increase efficiency, accountability, and public trust. The report documents the accelerating trend toward budget Transparency 2.0 and examines the benefits of improved transparency, highlighting best practices and offering suggestions for how Arizona can become a leader and do so before 2011.

According to the Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s report, the best practices that have been developed by Transparency 2.0 States include the following features:

  • Comprehensive –Leading states provide more comprehensive information on a broader range of expenditures, including contracts and subsidies with private parties.
  • One-Stop – Leading states offer one central website where citizens can search all government expenditures.
  • One-Click Searchable – Commercial Internet vendors know that a few extra clicks make it far less likely users will get to their destination. Leading states allow citizens both to browse broad, common-sense categories of government spending and to make directed keyword and field searches.

Transparency 2.0 documents how Arizona has adopted some good first steps and now needs to tighten and successfully implement its efforts to be a transparency leader:

  • Contracts – The Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) website allows citizens to examine some statewide contracts. However, only some contracts are included and data is often incomplete. The website is configured for state contractors; not to provide public oversight or accountability for expenditures.
  • Tax expenditures – The Department of Revenue’s website hosts an annual (non-searchable) Tax Expenditure Report (TER) about the amount of revenue forgone by the state as a result of different programs that grant tax exemptions, tax credits, or other tax preferences. However, the reports do not identify company-specific tax credits, exemptions or preference. Reports do not contain any evaluation of the effectiveness of special tax incentive programs; and information is not in a searchable database, making it difficult for taxpayers to easily find the information they want or spot trends over time.
  • Lobbying and campaign contributions– The Arizona Secretary of State’s (AZSOS) website offers good transparency on campaign contributions and expenditures and lobbyists. Integrating this information for entities that are awarded state contracts will be a useful check to ensure contracts are not provided as rewards or political favors.
  • Integrating information – Arizona government spending information is currently disclosed through a patchwork of websites and reports. Integrating existing government expenditure information on a single central website will go a long way toward providing Arizona residents with one-stop transparency.

The federal stimulus package includes language that requires all recipients (including states) of recovery funds from a federal agency to report quarterly detailed information about how the funds are spent, consistent with the reporting standards of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA). Since Arizona already has to comply with the (stricter) federal transparency standards for federal recovery funds, the Arizona PIRG Education Fund said it should broaden those standards for all state and local spending.

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