PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island ranks among the worst states for transparency of government spending data, according to a study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund released Tuesday.
The study, titled “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” evaluated each state’s transparency website for comprehensiveness and ease of use and assigned a numerical score and a letter grade to the state.
Rhode Island’s overall score of 62 out of a possible 100 earned the state a grade of D+ and ranked Rhode Island as the ninth least-transparent state in the country.
Described as a “lagging state,” Rhode Island lacks transparency and accessibility in certain areas related to government spending, the study found. For example, while Rhode Island’s transparency website allows residents to search for specific payments, citizens cannot download the entire data set to examine and analyze trends over time. Without this function, watchdog citizens cannot effectively work to uncover evidence of potential favoritism to certain contractors, or discover ways the state could spend money more effectively, the PIRG said.
“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 recipients of public subsidies accountable,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst with the Rhode Island branch of the PIRG Education Fund. “But Rhode Island has a long way to go.”
Last year was the first time that all 50 states maintained transparency websites, the PIRG study said. Rhode Island’s website, www.transparency.ri.gov, was first established in January 2013 under Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s Transparency and Accountability Initiative.
Although Rhode Island showed improvement over the 2013 PIRG study – when the Ocean State earned a letter grade of D- for its score of 54 – many of the shortfalls noted in last year’s report remained unimproved in 2014. Although the state’s website provides access to “checkbook-level” information on contracts, grants and other expenditures, it lacks other detailed information about economic development tax credits, descriptions of the projected and achieved benefits of economic development subsidies, and spending data for off-budget quasi-public agencies.