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Maryland received a “B-“ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fifth annual report of its kind by the Maryland PIRG Foundation.
“Maryland has 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 Emily Scarr, Maryland PIRG Foundation Director. “Unfortunately, we’re still in the middle of the pack as far as state spending transparency, not leading the way as we should be.”
Officials from Maryland and 45 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 Indiana, Florida, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2014” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.”
Maryland improved its score slightly this year, rising from a “C” to a “B-,” by providing increased information on the projected or actual public benefits of some tax credits like “Film Tax Credits, Job Creation Tax Credit, MEDAFF (Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund), One Maryland Tax Credit, and R&D Tax Credit.” These improvements were not across the board however, as is detailed in the report. Maryland is the only B level state that does not offer a keyword search in the state’s online checkbook.
States are getting better every year, so the grading standards are also rising each year; states need to improve transparency each year to be a leader.
While many states continue to improve, the states that most distinguished themselves as leaders in spending transparency are those that provide access to otherwise unscrutinized areas of expenditure. Six states provide public access to checkbook-level data on the subsidy recipients for each of the state’s most important economic development programs, allowing citizens and public officials to hold subsidy recipients accountable by listing the public benefits that specific companies were expected to provide and showing the benefits they actually delivered. Maryland only provides this data for some of these programs.
The most transparent states similarly provide detailed information on subsidies spent through the tax code, on economic development subsidies, and “off-budget” quasi-public agencies.”
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” said Scarr. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
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.
State spending transparency appears to 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’s transparency website, is operated by the Department of Budget and Management To visit it, click here: pending.dbm.maryland.gov
Read the Maryland PIRG Foundation report.
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