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Massachusetts received an ‘A’ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the sixth annual report of its kind by the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before, with all but two states allowing users to search the online checkbook by agency, keyword or vendor, or some combination of the three. Likewise, 44 states now provide checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs. Some states have even innovated entirely new features.
“Massachusetts’ commitment to spending transparency is a success story,” said MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director, Deirdre Cummings. “Back in 2010 when we released our first report, so little spending data was available online that the Commonwealth was graded an ‘F.’ After steady improvement, Massachusetts this year has reached near the top with an ‘A.’”
“This year, most states have made their budgets more open to the public, allowing users to better scrutinize how the government uses their tax dollars,” said Cummings. “Massachusetts continues to be one of the leaders of the pack and we hope Governor Baker will continue to prioritize transparency.”
Officials from Massachusetts and 46 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2015” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Montana, New York, Texas, and South Dakota.
Massachusetts is again a leader in state budget transparency, and has continued to improve even this year to keep pace with rising standards. The state has expanded the number of quasi-public agencies included in the checkbook, ensuring that even that traditionally undisclosed spending is open to the public. To continue to improve, more detailed economic development subsidy data and the rest of the quasi-public agencies should be available on the transparency portal.
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.
"Open and accessible state budgets are important so that the public can see where its tax dollars are being spent, and hold their state government accountable for its decisions," said Sunlight Foundation National Policy Manager Emily Shaw. "It's encouraging to see more states prioritizing open data policies and taking the steps necessary to make their data truly accessible."
State spending transparency appears to be a 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.
Massachusetts’s transparency website is operated by the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance. To visit it, click here: www.mass.gov/informedma
State by state table below.
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