TRENTON – New Jersey received a C+ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2014: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fifth annual report of its kind by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group Law & Policy Center (NJPIRG LPC).
“New Jersey’s C+ grade reflects a middling effort by the state to improve spending transparency,” said Jen Kim, NJPIRG LPC State Director. “Other state governments across the country have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and recipients of public subsidies accountable."
Officials from New Jersey and 44 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Indiana, Florida, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
Based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states' transparency websites, the “Following the Money 2014” report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F.” Described in the report as a "Middling state," New Jersey has comprehensive and easy-to-access checkbook-level spending information but limited information on subsidies.
Of New Jersey’s five biggest economic development subsidy programs, only three give checkbook level information on how much was given to which companies. Additionally, some programs do not give information on what subsidy recipients are expected to deliver in return. (Note: Some of these programs were consolidated or eliminated in the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013).
"No matter what your political affiliation, it is critical that all citizens have access to public informationto evaluate their elected officials,” said Chris Rogers, President of the New Jersey Taxpayers' Association. “The NJTA urges all of our elected leaders to take the necessary steps to become as transparent as possible."
While many states continue to improve, the states that most distinguished themselves as leaders in spending transparency are those that provide access to otherwise un-scrutinized areas of expenditure. Six states provide public access to checkbook-level data on the subsidy recipients for each of the state’s most important economic development programs, allowing citizens and public officials to hold subsidy recipients accountable by listing the public benefits that specific companies were expected to provide and showing the benefits they actually delivered. The most transparent states similarly provide detailed information on subsidies spent through the tax code, on economic development subsidies, and “off-budget” quasi-public agencies.”
“Open information about the public purse is crucial for democratic and effective government,” said Kim. “It is not possible to ensure that government spending decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible.”
At least eight states have launched brand new transparency websites since last year’s report, and most made improvements that are documented in the report.
States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost. In fact, top-flight transparency websites can save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.
State spending transparency is a non-partisan issue. The report compared transparency scores with a variety of measures of which party rules the state legislative, or sits in the Governor’s office, or how public opinion tilts in the states. Neither Republican nor Democratic states tended to have higher levels of spending disclosure.
“The Governor should set his sights high and make New Jersey a leader in open government,” said Kim. “With all the controversy that New Jersey has seen recently, we should be shooting for an ‘A’."
The state’s transparency website, is operated by New Jersey Office of the Treasurer. To visit the site, click here: yourmoney.nj.gov.
To read the NJPIRG LPC report, click here: http://njpirg.org/reports/njp/following-money-2014
NJPIRG Law & Policy Center works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation. www.njpirgcenter.org.
To contact the New Jersey Taxpayers’ Association, contact Richard DeMarco, Media Liaison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.