“Google Government”–New Report Calls for Greater Transparency in the California State Budget2 min read

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Especially in light of the difficult year ahead for California’s state budget, confirmed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office yesterday, lawmakers owe it to taxpayers to provide full information about where their dollars go.

This year many U.S. states have launched what they call “Google Government” by using the Internet to make accessible detailed information about where tax dollars go and who gets government contracts and subsidies. A new report, The State of State Disclosure, released today by the Washington D.C. Think Tank Good Jobs First, highlights how far California lags behind this national trend.

In a growing number of other states, searchable public databases provide easy access to information about government expenditures by agency, category, or contractor. With a few clicks, taxpayers and journalists in some states can see which contractors lobbied or gave campaign contributions.

The report found that California provides less information and access than thirty other states. The state fails to provide any information about financial and tax subsidies given to private entities. Illinois received the top ranking on subsidy disclosure, providing an online database searchable by vendor with information about promised and actual job benefits. Companies that fail to deliver promised benefits must return the subsidies they receive. None of these policies exist in California for programs such as the Enterprise Zone program.

Only nine states provide less public information about public contracts to private vendors, a category in which the Golden State was tied with Mississippi. Overall, California received a grade of “F” and was tied with Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

“We found that many states have a long way to go, especially with regard to economic development subsidies, in fully disclosing their interactions with the private sector,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report. Payments to private contractors accounts for over 40 percent of state and local government spending across the nation, according to U.S. Department of Commerce reports. Company-specific subsidies and tax incentives have also grown in recent years.

Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders have some tough decisions to make about the state budget in the coming year. It will be much harder to justify cuts to important public programs, an increase in taxes or fees, or both, unless the voters also have easy access to information about where their taxpayer dollars are currently going.

The full report, The State of State Disclosure, is found at http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/

Emily Rusch is an Advocate with the
California Public Interest Group (CALPIRG), a statewide public interest group supports legislation aimed at honest government in California.

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