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Washington received a B+ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2016: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the seventh annual report of its kind by Washington Public Interest Research Group Foundation.
This year’s report recognized more states as leaders than ever before with all but two states providing checkbook-level data for one or more economic development subsidy programs and more than half of states making that subsidy data available for researchers to download and analyze. Several states achieved perfect or near perfect scores based on this year’s criteria.
“Washington has taken strides toward improving its transparency website, but, like all states, would benefit from a bolder focus on helping citizens understand the role economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies play in the state,” said Bruce Speight, Executive Director of WashPIRG Foundation.
Officials from Washington and 43 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 2016” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut.
Washington has introduced significant updates to their transparency portal, including visualizations and summary data of some of the state’s largest tax exemptions. However, because the information is not recipient-specific, citizen watchdogs can’t analyze how a tax exemption granted to a corporation results in real value for ordinary Washingtonians.
“States’ online spending transparency efforts are paying off in better informed citizens and a more efficient government,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Our research found that top-ranked states have been making steady improvements to their transparency websites over the years, giving citizens in most states unprecedented access to information on where their tax money goes.”
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. Washington officials reported that their transparency portal cost $340,000 to create and less than $170,000 to maintain annually.
Washington’s transparency website is operated by the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program and the Office of Financial Management. To visit it, click here: www.fiscal.wa.gov.
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