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Iowa received an “A-” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the sixth annual report of its kind by the Iowa Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before, with all but two states allowing users to search the online checkbook by agency, keyword or vendor, or some combination of the three. Likewise, 44 states now provide checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs.
“This year, most states have made their budgets more open to the public, allowing users to better scrutinize how the government uses their tax dollars,” said Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst with Iowa Public Interest Research Group. “Iowa continues to be one of the leaders of the pack.”
Officials from Iowa and 46 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2015” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Montana, New York, Texas, and South Dakota.
Iowa is a leader in online budget transparency, ranking in the top ten best states nationally for this report. The state continues to improve by adding checkbook data about its Research Activities Credit and adding information about economic development program clawbacks. If the states aims to continue to be a leader, it should continue to expand transparency efforts around such subsidy programs.
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. Iowa officials reported that their transparency portal cost less than $330,000 over three years to launch and costs $120,000 annually.
“Our websites, data.iowa.gov and checkbook.iowa.gov, represent Iowa's commitment to honest, open government,” said David Roederer, Director at the Iowa Department of Management. “We are constantly looking for better ways to inform Iowa taxpayers of how and where their money is being spent, and what is being achieved by their State government. While a lot has been accomplished to date, our effort will be an endless work in progress.”
State spending transparency appears to be a non-partisan issue. The report compared transparency scores with a variety of measures of state legislative, gubernatorial or public opinion partisanship and found that neither Republican nor Democratic states tended to have higher levels of spending disclosure.
The state of Ohio topped the rankings, climbing from a “D-” in 2014 to an “A+” this year for its improvements to the Online Checkbook transparency portal. Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel said, “I’m proud to have built OhioCheckbook.com and taken Ohio’s transparency ranking from 46th to 1st in the nation. The work U.S. PIRG’s doing on open government is helping set off a national race for transparency. My office was motivated to participate in this race and we will continue to work with U.S. PIRG and others to empower taxpayers to hold public officials accountable. ”
Iowa’s transparency website is operated by the Iowa Department of Management. To visit it, click here: data.iowa.gov
To read the full report: http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2015
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