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Florida Receives D on Transparency of Government Spending But Still Makes Important Progress

For Immediate Release

Tallahassee, FL. – State governments across the country continue to be more transparent about where the money goes, extending checkbook-level disclosure of data on spending to contracting, tax subsidies, development incentives and other expenditures on one-stop state transparency website portals.

Today, the Florida Public Interest Research Group (Florida PIRG) released its third annual report evaluating state transparency websites.

The new report, Following the Money 2012: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, looks at and compares state websites across the country highlighting states that are leading the way.

Officials from Florida and 46 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 Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and Arizona. 

“In Florida, we have some good news and some bad news to report regarding Transparency Florida, said Brad Ashwell, Florida PIRG Advocate. The bad news is that Florida still gets a D. But the good news is that the state has made progress.”

“The CFO’s office has incorporated some very important additions since last year, partly due to the criteria used in last year’s Follow The Money report, and they deserve credit for that. But as evidenced by the grade there is still a long way to go before Florida is a leading state in budget transparency,” said Ashwell.

Specifically, the state has made progress in transparency over quasi-government agencies and public private partnerships. Transparency Florida also now has a full catalog of state and federal grants online including who receives the grant and the total dollars spent for fiscal year. Finally, the CFO’s office has set up a page called ‘Your Money Matters’ that allows taxpayers to see roughly how their tax dollars are allocated in state government. There is also a new feedback feature.

Based on an inventory of the content and accessibility of states' transparency websites, Following the Money 2012 assigns each state a grade of "A" to "F." The report describes Florida as a "lagging state" because its online checkbook has failed to keep pace with advancing standards of transparency. For example, the website is somewhat difficult to use, does not allow visitors to search expenditures by keyword or activity, tax expenditures, or off-budget agencies.

“It’s important to note that one of the primary obstacles to improving the Transparency Florida website is an antiquated accounting system that needs modernization. State lawmakers ignored calls by the CFO’s office to prioritize this during the 2012 legislative session,” said Ashwell. “State lawmakers must prioritize budget transparency and modernizing the states accounting systems is an important step if Florida is to become a leading state. Given our state budget problems, Floridians need to be able to follow the money, said Ashwell.”

Since last year’s Following the Money report, there has been remarkable progress across the country with new states providing online access to government spending information and several states pioneering new tools to further expand citizens’ access to government spending information. 

This year’s report found that 46 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail, a major increase from 32 states two years ago. Twenty nine state transparency websites now provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits – up from eight states two years ago.

Citizens expect information to be at their fingertips the way they can view their cellphone minutes or the location of a package. Putting spending information online helps hold government accountable and allows taxpayers to see where the money goes, said Ashwell.”

The states with the most transparent spending generally include data on economic development subsidies, expenditures granted through the tax code, and quasi-public agencies. Eight states have launched brand new transparency websites or online tools since last year’s report. Many more have made improvements to existing websites that are documented in the report.  The best state transparency tools were highly searchable, engaged citizens, and included detailed usable information.

States that have created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost.   In fact, states with top-flight transparency websites actually save money for taxpayers, while also restoring public confidence in government, and preventing misspending and pay-to-play contracts.

Based an inventory of the content and accessibility of states' transparency websites, Following the Money 2012 assigns each state a grade of "A" to "F." The report describes Florida as a "lagging state" because its online checkbook has failed to keep pace with advancing standards of transparency. For example, the website is difficult to use, does not allow visitors to search expenditures by keyword or activity, tax expenditures, or off-budget agencies, for example.

 

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