California Seal

March 28th, 2013, 3:15 pm ·

Another day, another critical report about transparency in the Golden State.

Earlier this month, we told you about two new reports that blasted state government for failing to make its budget and legislative data easy to use. This week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund released an even more critical report on the availability of spending data in California.

In its report “Following the Money 2013: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” U.S. PIRG, the umbrella organization that oversees state public interest research groups like CALPIRG, gave California a failing grade along with Wyoming, Wisconsin, Hawaii and North Dakota.

The authors found that while California and the others maintain websites with “checkbook-level” spending data, their sites are far more “limited and hard to use” than other states’.

“Not a single Failing State provides information on the public benefits of economic development subsidies broken down by recipient or makes its tax expenditure report available,” the report says. “Only one state – Wyoming – provides spending information on off-budget agencies.”

Compare this with the seven states receiving “A” grades (Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Oklahoma).

U.S. PIRG says they “have created user-friendly websites that provide visitors with an array of checkbook-level information about expenditures. In each of these states, users can monitor the payments made to vendors through contracts, grants, tax credits and other discretionary spending. All spending in these states – with the exception of subsidies in Texas – is accessible in a searchable database. All Leading States – except Florida – also provide users with copies of contracts, allowing residents to uncover details about the goods or services the government pays companies to provide.”

Illinois has even created a special website called Open Book that allows the public “to explore contracts awarded to corporations side-by-side with electoral contributions those corporations have made.”

Top secret While other states are innovating and improving,” said Emily Rusch, state director of CALPIRG, in a conference call with reporters, “California is failing.”

Indeed, the U.S. PIRG report finds that California is uniquely deficient.

“In 2013, for the first time, all 50 states provide some checkbook-level information on state spending via the Internet,” the report states. “In 48 states – all except California and Vermont – this information is now searchable.”

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