Sarah Paduano photo
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo (Sarah Paduano photo)

Connecticut was ranked as one of the leading states for transparency in government spending, scoring an “A” on a state-by-state report released Wednesday by the ConnPIRG Education Fund.

The sixth annual “Following the Money” report offers an evaluation of information from all 50 states and grades them from “A” to “F” based on the content and accessibility of that information on their websites.

“We are excited that Connecticut has gained ground nationally on transparency — but recognize that open government is always a work in progress, with no finish line,” state Comptroller Kevin Lembo said.

Transparency in state spending increases accountability, reduces corruption, and promotes greater fiscal responsibility, according to the report.

“It is especially important today when the state faces difficult budget choices. We should be able to scrutinize the government’s spending the way we can examine our own checkbooks,” ConnPIRG state director Evan Preston said.

Connecticut’s transparency website tracks state expenditures, grants, salaries, and pensions. Lembo maintains his own website, Open Connecticut, to track anything from state income tax collections to borrowing and tax credits.

The most transparent states provide the public with information about the types of expenditures that otherwise receive little public scrutiny, like economic development subsidies. Connecticut was only outranked by five other states, including Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Louisiana.

ConnPIRG’s report also ranked Connecticut in the top 10 most improved. Its website jumped from a “B” score of 83 our of 100 last year to a 96 this year.

Preston said that although Connecticut has been identified as a leader on government transparency, there is still room for improvement. He said that there is still a lack of information on several tax subsidy programs, like those administered by the Department of Revenue Services.

Currently, only aggregate information is available on these programs handled by DRS, making it difficult to evaluate the performance of individual recipients of tax credits, Preston said. Lembo agreed that he would like to move to a point where the state is able to examine the success of its tax credits or abatements for companies or industries to see if “we are actually getting the return on investment that had originally been promised from those credits.”

However, Connecticut was credited in the report for making information about specific recipients of economic development tax credits available.

“Many leading states provide only incomplete information on the public benefits delivered by recipients of economic development subsidies — either providing projected benefits for some programs but not others, or providing projected benefits without a corresponding accounting of whether those benefits ever materialized,” the report reads.

Connecticut and Ohio were the only two states to provide “recipient-specific” information about the economic development tax credits. Connecticut was also praised for its reporting on the film tax credits.

“Though the state fails to document job creation related to film production activity, its accounting of total spending by the credit’s beneficiaries is deemed eligible for credit on grounds that in incentivizing film production projects, which are necessarily fixed-term endeavors, boosting spending in the state is a legitimate programmatic goal,” the report reads.

Lembo pledged to continue to improve the information that’s available on his website and hoped to get to the point where the outcomes of policy issues can be combined with this type of financial reporting so people can see how the state is doing.