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New Report: Massachusetts Receives an “A-” in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending

For Immediate Release

BOSTON—Massachusetts received an “A-” in 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 Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, (MASSPIRG). State Treasurer Steven Grossman and Executive Office of Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez accepted a giant report card today for their leadership in making government spending more transparent and accessible to the public.

Out of all 50 states, Massachusetts tied with Louisiana and came in 4th place with a score of 92 and a grade of “A-”. In order to determine how well states provide online access to government spending, each state’s transparency website was analyzed and assigned a grade from zero to 100. The score is based on 13 scoring criteria measuring searchability and the breadth of information provided. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.

“Massachusetts has moved to the head of the class when it comes to providing the public with easy-to-use, one-stop, comprehensive and timely information about how government spends our tax dollars,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director of MASSPIRG.

“The Patrick-Murray Administration is committed to making government more accessible and transparent to taxpayers,” said Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez. MASSPIRG’s A- rating of Massachusetts is welcome recognition of the many ways we have increased transparency in government.”

“This MASSPIRG report highlights the commitment of the Commonwealth’s leadership team to open our books, let the sun shine in, and give every citizen access to our spending practices. It’s the taxpayer’s money, and they are entitled to know how it is being spent,” said Treasurer Steven Grossman. “While the report gives us high marks for openness in spending, it also notes where even further improvements can be made, and we heartily agree. We look forward to further enhancing the online Open Checkbook so that as much spending information as possible can be viewed by the taxpaying public.”

What Massachusetts is doing well to make spending more transparent:

  • Created a new tool, "Open Checkbook", that gives users the ability to monitor state spending in almost real-time as the data are updated nightly
  • Website establishes one portal, Massachusetts Transparency, where all the spending information can be found
  • Website is easy to navigate, provides good search tools and gives users ability to download data
  • Open Checkbook clearly discloses what is included on the web site and what is not and outlines what will be included in the future
  • The state has passed a comprehensive law to mandate even stronger transparency including detailed information about quasi-public agencies and corporate tax expenditures
  • Website includes tax expenditure reports which contains the cost and description of each tax spending program, including historical data
  • Web site provides a link to the easy-to-use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) website, which includes all federal stimulus spending and complete contracts for that spending
  • Web site solicits feedback from citizens

What Massachusetts should improve to make spending more transparent:

  • Provide greater detail on economic development subsidies and tax expenditures: Full transparency would disclose this information for a wider range of subsidies and show whether or not companies fulfilled the commitments they promised in return for those subsidies.
  • Provide greater access to all contracts for all expenditures
  • Provide spending and revenue information for all quasi-public agencies

As part of the state’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law new transparency guidelines, which in part has led to such a high quality transparency website.  

Since last year’s Following the Money report, there has been remarkable progress across the country. New states have provided online access to government spending information and several states have pioneered 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.

“Citizens expect information to be at their fingertips the way they can view their cellphone minutes or the location of a package,” said Cummings. “Putting spending information online helps hold government accountable and allows taxpayers to see where the money goes.”

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending promotes fiscal responsibility, checks corruption, and bolsters public confidence.

 

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MASSPIRG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens-based advocacy group.

To read the full new report, click here.

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