PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island has received a “D-” grade for government spending transparency in the fourth annual report from the R.I. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
RIGIRG’s fourth annual report – “Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank On Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data” – was released Tuesday.
The report assigned each of the 47 states that submitted data a grade from “A” to “F” based on the inventory of content and ease-of-use of transparency websites.
The report described Rhode Island as a “lagging state,” adding that while the state’s website provides access to checkbook-level information on contracts, grants and other expenditures, it lacks other detailed information including: economic development tax credits, links to tax expenditure reports, descriptions of the projected and achieved benefits of economic development subsidies, and spending data for off-budget agencies.
“State governments across the country 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,” Ryan Pierannunzi, tax and budget associate with the RIPIRG Education Fund, said in prepared remarks. “But Rhode Island still has a long way to go.”
While Rhode Island earned a D-, the states with the most comprehensive transparency websites were: Texas (A), Massachusetts (A-), Florida (A-), Illinois (A-), Kentucky (A-), Michigan (A-) and Oklahoma (A-).
Rhode Island was the only state to earn a D- and was rated the sixth worst in the United States for transparency on government spending. Below Rhode Island were Wyoming, Wisconsin, Hawaii, California and North Dakota, all with failing grades.
According to RIPIRG, this is the second consecutive year that Rhode Island’s transparency website has earned a D- grade, although the organization added that grading standards for transparency rise with each report card, “reflecting the rising standards and expectations for government transparency.”
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” said Pierannunzi. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
The RIPIRG report noted some across-the-board improvements for transparency within the U.S., including the fact that all 50 states now provide at least some checkbook-level data about individual government expenditures. In all states except California and Vermont the information is 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,” said RIPIRG, adding that 39 state transparency websites now include tax expenditure reports, which provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits. This is up from eight states three years ago.
According to RIPIRG, states that have created or improved their online transparency have 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,” said the report.
“The state of Rhode Island should improve the breadth and ease-of-access of online government spending information,” said Pierannunzi in a statement. “Given the state’s difficult budget choices, Rhode Islanders need to be able to follow the money.”