The state of Connecticut falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to online transparency and access to government spending, according to a state-by-state report by the ConnPIRG Education Fund.
The report, which evaluated information from Connecticut and 47 other states, showed it slipping from a B grade to a C+ in the annual report.
But that doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means.
“Connecticut’s falling score does not mean spending has become less transparent. It means other states are improving faster,” Abe Scarr, ConnPIRG Education Fund director, said.
Connecticut has a Transparency.ct.gov website that tracks state expenditures, grants, salaries, and pensions. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo recently launched his own website, Open Connecticut, to track everything from state income tax collection to borrowing and tax credits. This year he is proposing that the state create a website to track even more.
Lembo’s bill, which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration opposes, would establish at least three new mechanisms to improve transparency in state finances — starting with a publicly accessible online database for all state tax credit and economic assistance programs. It would also require regular “tax incidence analysis” reports to determine the distribution of the state’s tax burden, and it would improve public access to vital state financial documents.
According to the ConnPIRG report, the leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, and Oklahoma. Of those seven states, three have Democratic governors and four have Republican governors, proving that transparency is not a partisan issue.
Transparency can even offer redemption. Illinois, which has sent four of its last seven governors to prison, recently created a tool called “Open Book” that empowers the public and watchdog groups to explore contracts awarded to corporations side-by-side with the corporations’ electoral contributions.
The report released Wednesday morning found that 30 states do not post checkbook-level information on economic development tax credits. Sixteen states do not provide any information about expenditures or revenue collected from quasi-public agencies or public-private partnerships, prohibiting citizens from monitoring such “off budget” state spending in these areas.
“This report shows that many states are getting impressive results from making contracts and subsidies more transparent. Connecticut should get in the lead,” Wade Gibson, senior policy fellow with Connecticut Voices for Children, said in a press release.
Since last year’s “Following the Money” report, there has been remarkable progress across the country with new states providing online access to government spending information and several states pioneering new tools to further expand citizens’ access to data.
This year’s report found that all 50 states now provide at least some checkbook-level detail about individual government expenditures. In 48 states — all except California and Vermont — this information is now electronically searchable. Just three years ago, only 32 states provided checkbook-level information on state spending online, and only 29 states provided that information in searchable form. Thirty-nine state transparency websites now include tax expenditure reports, providing information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions, and credits. That’s up from just eight states having accomplished that level of access three years ago.
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” Scarr said. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”