Last Modified: Monday, April 14, 2014 10:58 AM
With government taking an ever-increasing part in the life of every person in this nation, it is vital that citizens demand that those who are governing us submit to the maximum transparency.
Fortunately for us, Louisiana appears to be one of the states taking government transparency seriously.
Louisiana recently received a B+ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fifth annual report of its kind by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.While a B+ is above average, it is not nearly good enough. The residents of Louisiana should settle for nothing less than an A+.
“State governments across the country have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and recipients of public subsidies accountable,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. “We’re hoping that Louisiana will be a leader next year.”
Officials from Louisiana and 44 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Indiana, Florida, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont and Wisconsin.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states’ transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2014” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” Described in the report as an “Advancing state,” Louisiana’s checkbook is searchable by recipient, keyword and agency. However, the state provides less access to information about spending on subsidies or whether subsidy recipients deliver on the agreed-upon public benefits.
After receiving a C in last year’s report, Louisiana showed significant improvement this year with a score of 88. Of the 50 states, Louisiana’s was the 10th most-improved score. Grading standards rise each year, so states need to improve transparency each year to be a leader.
While many states continue to improve, the states that most distinguished themselves as leaders in spending transparency are those that provide access to types of expenditures that otherwise receive little public scrutiny. For instance, six states provide public access to checkbook-level data on the subsidy recipients for each of the state’s most important economic development programs, allowing residents and public officials to hold subsidy recipients accountable by listing the public benefits that specific companies were expected to provide and showing the benefits they actually delivered. The most transparent states similarly provide detailed information on subsidies spent through the tax code and “off-budget” quasi-public agencies.
“Rising public expectations about government transparency are clearly making progress,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, an organization that tracks state and local subsidies. “US PIRG’s findings about overall state spending transparency are consistent with our own specific findings about economic development subsidies: there is more data and its quality is improving. Now our collective challenge is to use the data to win more accountability and equity.”
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” Baxandall said. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
State spending transparency is a non-partisan issue. The report compared transparency scores with a variety of measures of which party rules the state legislative, or sits in the governor’s office, or how public opinion tilts in the states. Neither Republican nor Democratic states tend to have higher levels of spending disclosure.
The state’s transparency website — wwwprd.doa.louisiana.gov/latrac — is operated by Louisiana Division of Administration.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund report can be found at http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2014.
It is the duty of every Louisiana resident to keep our government and our politician’s honest and transparent. Be alert and active at the ballot box and keep track of what’s going on in between elections.