Oregon's budget transparency website earns a grade of "D"

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Jon Bartholomew

Apr 13, 2010, 11:44:47 AM4/13/10
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April 13, 2010

CONTACT: Jon Bartholomew, OSPIRG Policy Advocate

503.358.3833  jo...@ospirg.org

 or Phineas Baxandall, Senior Analyst for Tax and Budget Policy
Office: (617) 747-4351 Phi...@pirg.org



Oregon Earns “D” in New Report on Transparency

of Government Spending


Portland, OR, April 13 – Oregon got a “D” when it comes to openness about government spending, according to FOLLOWING THE MONEY: How the 50  States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data released on Tuesday.


“The good news is that state governments have become far more transparent about where the money goes,” said Jon Bartholomew, Policy Advocate with the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG). “But Oregon still has lots of room for improvement.”


FOLLOWING THE MONEY found that 32 states provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. The best state transparency tools are highly searchable, and include detailed information about government contracts, tax subsidies and special grants to businesses.


An example of a leading state transparency web tool is Open Door Kentucky which allows visitors to easily search view contracts past and present, to search by contractor or type of activity contracted for, with explanations of the purpose of individual contracts. Tax subsidies and economic development grants are included, as are expenditures by some quasi-public agencies. Similarly, the state of IllinoisCorporate Accountability Project tracks grants given to companies for job creation – and provides yearly reports signed by the companies of how many jobs were actually created.


States with top-flight transparency websites are saving money, restoring public confidence in government, and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts. States that have created online transparency have done so with little upfront cost. 


The leading states with the most open spending are: Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Oregon is an “Emerging State” as it has only recently launched a state budget transparency website – www.oregon.gov/transparency - at the end of 2009. This website is a work in progress and is being created without additional funding being provided for its design and maintenance.


Support for government budget transparency enjoys bipartisan support. In 2008, federal legislation to strengthen Web-based spending transparency was co-sponsored in the Senate by presidential rivals John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL). The legislation that created Oregon’s budget transparency site, HB 2500, passed in 2009 with bipartisan sponsorship. The law also created the Transparency Oregon Advisory Commission to oversee the implementation of the state transparency website.


"Democracy at its essence should be open and transparent to all citizens,” noted Oregon State Senator Martha Schrader (D-Canby), Chair of the Transparency Oregon Advisory Commission.  “People work hard for their money and are entitled to know where and how their tax money is spent."


Oregon’s transparency budget website is just getting off the drawing board,” added Oregon State Representative Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer, Newberg, St. Paul), who is a member of the Transparency Oregon Advisory Commission. “Over time, we hope the site will become much more comprehensive and user friendly.  We believe this is a good first step and it provides a lot of useful information that the public was lacking up to now.” 


“Given the current severity of our budget problems, Oregonians need to be confident that they can follow the money,” added OSPIRG’s Bartholomew, who is one of two citizen members of the Transparency Oregon Advisory Commission. “We will be working hard to improve the user-friendliness of the state transparency website, as well as ensuring more data about tax expenditures will be posted online.”


The full report can be accessed at http://bit.ly/followingthemoney.


OSPIRG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens-based advocacy group. OSPIRG takes on powerful interests on behalf of Oregon's citizens, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. www.ospirg.org

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