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ANN ARBOR, March 14 – Michigan received a “B” when it comes to 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 Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM). This year, PIRGIM also produced a companion report examining local-level transparency in Michigan, entitled Following the Municipal Money: Seven Steps for More Effective Local Transparency in Michigan.
“State governments across the country continue to be more transparent about where the money goes, extending checkbook-level disclosure of data on spending to contracting, tax subsidies, development incentives and other expenditures,” said Meghan Hess, program associate at PIRGIM. “But Michigan still has plenty of room for improvement.”
Officials from Michigan and 46 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 Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona.
Following the Money 2012 sorts the states into five types, based on their "A" to "F" grade. The report describes Michigan as an "advancing state" because it has established a transparency website that is user-friendly and searchable, but lacks the breadth of information characteristic of leading states' websites. Michigan's website is fully searchable, but is not downloadable, does not include off-budget agencies, and does not link to local government budgets or contracts for all expenditures. Michigan's grade of "B" was a marked increase from last year's report, in which the state received a "C."
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 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. Putting spending information online helps hold government accountable and allows taxpayers to see where the money goes,” said Hess.
The states with the most transparent spending generally include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. Eight states have launched brand new transparency websites or online tools since last year’s report. Many more have made improvements to existing websites that are documented in the report. The best state transparency tools were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed usable information.
States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost. In fact, states with top-flight transparency websites actually save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government, and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
“The state of Michigan should continually improve access to online information about government spending.” said Hess, “Given our state budget problems, Michiganders need to be able to follow the money.”
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