In the news

Maryland PIRG Foundation
|
Carroll County Times
By
Timothy Sandoval

Maryland ranks toward the middle of the pack when compared to other states in terms of online transparency of government spending, according to a report released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Tuesday.

The report, called “Following the Money 2014,” ranked Maryland 23rd in the country for its spending transparency website — tied with Pennsylvania — scoring 82.5 out of a possible 100 points. This year marks the fifth year that the report has been released by U.S. PIRG.

Maryland received a grade of B- from the report’s authors in an analysis of the content on the state’s transparency website and how easy the website is to use. The grade is an improvement from last year’s grade of a C for the website.

The state has provided more information online concerning the benefits of some tax credits, such as film tax credits and job creation tax credits, among others, which explains Maryland’s higher grade this year.

However, Maryland does not match up to other states in terms of having a keyword search for state spending or providing information on state subsidies.

Maryland provides some analysis as to whether state subsidies garner expected results, according to the report, but more information could be released.

“I would say that in general Maryland is doing pretty well, but certainly could improve,” said Emily Scarr, director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, which worked with the U.S. PIRG on the report. “The two places that we should be improving are making tax spending more searchable for our tax payers and [providing] more information on government subsidy outcomes.”

Indiana, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and Wisconsin built the top-ranking transparency websites, according to the report.

The report only analyzed openness online in terms of state spending and did not look at other public records, such as campaign contributions or lobbying records. Nor did it look at the laws that govern public access to information, such as the Maryland Public Information Act.

A 2012 report titled the “State Integrity Investigation” gave Maryland an overall grade of D minus in terms of the strength of laws and practices that are meant to protect against government corruption and promote openness. The report looked at the areas of public access to information, political financing and internal auditing, among many others.

The integrity investigation was the result of a partnership between the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Pubic Radio International.

Scarr said she agreed there are areas outside of online spending transparency in which the state needs to improve, although she declined to comment on specific areas.

“There are lots of things the government should be transparent on,” Scarr said. “Maryland PIRG supports transparency in government at all levels.”

Still, Scarr said assessing online spending transparency is important because it is how most citizens today will access the information.

“That is where most people will look immediately to find this information, as opposed to the good old days when you would have to submit a request and have something mailed to you,” Scarr said.

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