I’m from California, and I like to think that my home state is a step or two better than states elsewhere. There’s just no way you can beat Yosemite, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, the Pacific Coast Highway, and the California Golden Bears. So I have to say I found myself a little disappointed a couple weeks ago in how California stacked up against our northern neighbor on the issue of transparency.
In Following the Money 2012, our new report that grades states’ progress toward providing online access to government spending data, California received a D- while Oregon received a B+. Transparency in government is fundamental to democracy – it promotes fiscal responsibility, checks corruption, and bolsters public confidence – and it doesn’t seem like California has much of it.
Why is California lagging so far behind Oregon? You would think that in a state with Google, HP and Intel, the government would have a leg up on anything technological, but that is clearly not the case. The reason simply put: online spending transparency is a priority for Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, while it isn’t a priority for California Governor Brown. In fact in 2011, Brown’s administration dismantled the website created by former Governor Schwarzenegger. (For more information, see the report’s coverage in the Sacramento Bee.)
There is one main lesson to draw from Oregon’s shellacking of California: it doesn’t matter how advanced a state is in information technology, because unless the government takes action to adopt strong measures to boost transparency, their citizens will remain unable to track government spending. Over the next year, California’s government should expand on California’s exceptionalism (in my opinion) and build a transparency website stronger and better than Oregon’s. That way I can add “transparency” to the list of things that make California great.