Reports

Report | WashPIRG | Tax

Picking Up the Tab 2013

Some U.S.-based multinational firms and individuals avoid paying U.S. taxes by using accounting tricks to shift profits made in America to offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes. They benefit from their access to America’s markets, workforce, infrastructure and security; but they pay little or nothing for it—violating the basic fairness of the tax system and forcing other taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Tax

Following the Money 2013

Every year, state governments spend tens of billions of dollars through contracts with private entities for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, grants, and other forms of spending. Accountability and public scrutiny are necessary to ensure that state funds are well spent. 

In recent years, state governments across the country have created transparency websites that provide checkbook-level information on government spending – meaning that users can view the payments made to individual companies and details about the goods or services purchased. These websites allow residents and watchdog groups to ensure that taxpayers get their money’s worth from deals the state makes with companies.

In 2013, for the first time, all 50 states provide some checkbook-level information on state spending via the Internet. In 48 states – all except California and Vermont – this information is now searchable. Just four years ago, only 32 states provided checkbook-level information on state spending online, and only 29 states provided that information in searchable form.

This report, WashPIRG Education Fund’s fourth annual evaluation of state transparency websites, finds that states are closer than ever before to meeting the standards of “Transparency 2.0” – encompassing, one-stop, one-click checkbook transparency and accountability. Over the past year, new states have opened the books on public spending and several states have pioneered new tools to further expand citizens’ access to critical spending information. Many states, however, still have a long way to go to provide taxpayers with the information they need to ensure that government is spending their money effectively.
 

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Safe Energy

Too Close to Home

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which took place in March 2011, delivered a reminder to the world that nuclear power comes with inherent risks. Over a period of several days, three Japanese nuclear reactors suffered meltdowns. A large amount of radioactive material escaped into the environment over the ensuing months.

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Tax

The Hidden Cost of Offshore Tax Havens

When U.S. corporations and wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes to the federal government, it is an abuse of our tax system. Tax haven abusers benefit from our markets, infrastructure, educated workforce, and security, but they pay next to nothing for these benefits. Ultimately, taxpayers must pick up the tab, either in the form of higher taxes, cuts to public spending priorities, or increased national debt.

Report | WashPIRG Foundation | Budget

Transparency in City Spending

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility.
Cities across the country have been moving toward making their checkbooks transparent by creating transparency portals and posting recipient-specific spending data online. Currently, 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.  Online checkbooks in most cities are searchable, making it easier for residents to follow the money and monitor government spending.
Following our earlier studies of government spending at the state level, this report evaluates the progress of America’s 30 largest cities toward “Transparency 2.0” – a standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. Twelve scoring criteria were used to measure the breadth of information each city provides on-line and the information’s searchability. Since the deployment of city resources is intimately linked to providing everyday quality-of-life services for constituents, these criteria also include how well cities enable residents to make and track service requests online. Based on these findings, we then assigned each city a number grade from zero to 100 and a corresponding letter grade from “A” to “F.” (See Table ES-1 for the list of cities and grades. See Appendix D for the methodology.)
Out of America’s largest cities, three stand out as leaders in online transparency – earning “A” grades based on our criteria.
Over the next year, America’s other large cities should improve their transparency websites, providing their residents with greater access to information about city spending decisions. Some cities may want to take advantage of New York City’s open code to adapt functionality without paying outside programmers.

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