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Baltimore – Baltimore received a grade of “B+” for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by Maryland PIRG. The report reviews Baltimore’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.
“Baltimore’s performance in our study makes clear that spending transparency can be achieved by cities of all sizes. The city scored better than many other cities with significantly larger budgets and populations,” said Laura Muth, associate with Maryland PIRG.
The report, “Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America’s Largest Cities,” reviews and grades the nation’s thirty largest cities on how effectively they allow the public to track budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services.
Baltimore’s grade of “B+” reflects transparency features such as the city’s provision of searchable and downloadable checkbook-level city spending information, which gives citizens the ability to see where money is being spent. The city also has a service request center that allows residents to notify city officials of quality-of-life issues that need to be fixed. However, there is still has room for improvement; for example, Baltimore should provide information on spending through tax incentives, including the benefits specific companies receive from the city’s tax credits, exemptions and abatements.
The report found that 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Three cities received “A” grades and lead the pack in delivering easy-to-access, encompassing information on government spending: New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Five cities received failing grades, indicating that they offer little or no spending data online: Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Cleveland.
“The ability to see how government spends its funds is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility,” said Muth.
The report makes a series of recommendations for cities to follow in order to achieve spending transparency, including:
· Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.
· Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.
· Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.
· Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.
· Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.
· Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.
“City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health. Spending transparency can help Baltimoreans hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent,” added Muth.
The new study extends Maryland PIRG’s annual reporting on state government transparency, which since 2010 has compared Maryland’s spending transparency to the other 49 states: http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2012
The Transparency in City Spending report can be downloaded here.
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Maryland PIRG, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. www.marylandpirg.org
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