Pennsylvania, once ranked among the worst of the worst for government transparency, received a C-plus in openness in government spending, according to a new report by the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG).
The report, Following the Money 2011: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,found that Pennsylvania’s main online site to search for state contracts is easy to use and gives fairly specific detail on government spending.
But where Pennsylvania still lags, researchers found, is in moving beyond the basics and providing detailed information in key areas such as tax expenditures and economic development subsidies. There is also no one-stop shopping – if you want to find out about contracts, for instance, you go to the Department of Treasury’s website (http://contracts.patreasury.org). If you want to find out what lobbyists are spending, you have to go to the Department of State’s website (www.dos.state.pa.us). And if you want to see a lawmaker’s statement of financial interest, you have to go to the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission website (www.ethics.state.pa.us).
“We are describing Pennsylvania as “emerging,” but still not a leader in government transparency,” said Megan DeSmedt, PennPIRG’s state director.
Last year, the first year PennPIRG did the report, the state received the slightly higher grade of B-minus. The reason for this year’s slip is that the criteria are slightly different as states get better and more efficient at making information available to the public.
In general, the report found that 40 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with what researches called “checkbook-level” detail. The states with the most transparent spending also include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies.
Only five states – Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Arizona and Louisiana – received A grades. In all, Pennsylvania ranked 10th (and actually is tied for the spot with neighboring New Jersey).
The complete “Following the Money 2011” report can be accessed at http://www.pennpirg.org.
Click herefor Philly.com's politics page.