Massachusetts is ranked 6th among the leading states with the most open spending; joining Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon. This year the Executive Office of Administration and Finance has launched a new transparency website, Massachusetts Transparency, bringing the state’s spending information under one roof, though behind a number of separate doors. The best transparency states seamlessly integrate data about spending, and provide easy accessibility to the information.
Since last year’s Following the Money report, in which we received a failing grade, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law new transparency and accountability reforms as part of the state’s FY 2011 Budget. The new law, required the development of a comprehensive state budget and spending website coupled with improved transparency of transferable and refundable business tax credits and quasi-public, agencies.
What Massachusetts does well in making spending more transparent:
– Has a new comprehensive law to create transparency web site
– New law calls for first-in-the-nation budget transparency of quasi-public agencies
– Web site establishes one portal, Massachusetts Transparency, where all the spending information can be found
– Web site includes a tax expenditure report which includes the cost and description of each tax spending program, including historical data
– Web site provides a link to the easy-to-use American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) website, which includes all federal stimulus spending and complete contracts for that spending
– Web site solicits feedback from citizens
Where Massachusetts must improve to make spending more transparent:
– Checkbook level detail: The current site only provides a fraction of the state’s actual transactions with links through its procurement site. All spending, with checkbook-level detail, must be made available, searchable and easy to use.
– Greater detail on economic development subsidies and tax expenditures: The new law requires the reporting of which companies receive tax subsidies from a set of programs that give refundable credits and the amounts they receive. Full transparency would disclose this information for a wider range of subsidies and show whether or not companies fulfilled the commitments they promised in return for those subsidies.
– User-friendly: The current site remains difficult to navigate. Unless spending information is accessible, it is not truly transparent.