How State Got D Minus in Government Transparency

The San Francisco Chronicle
John Diaz

California, home of so much brilliance and innovation, should be ashamed that Texas and Kentucky lead the nation in using the tools of technology to make their government spending more transparent to their citizens. Even worse is that 35 other states scored higher than California in a recent analysis by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Perhaps most humiliating of all is that the technology that could have put California in the top tier in 2012 is not expected to be up and running until ... 2017.

California rated a D minus in this survey.

"When Californians can summon a satellite image of the Capitol building from a cell phone in a matter of seconds, it is reasonable to expect that they should also be able to see what's happening inside the building just as easily," Pedro Morillas, CalPIRG's legislative director, wrote in the new report, "Following the Money 2012: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data." "It is disappointing and embarrassing that California is not only lagging behind, but actively moving in the opposite direction when it comes to keeping pace with certain standards."

The pace of this state's trudge to the 21st century in government transparency could become a liability for Gov. Jerry Brown as he tries to persuade voters that he has squeezed as many efficiencies as he could out of state government in asking voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase and higher income tax rates in November.

In many states, such a claim would be more readily verifiable. The top-rated states, such as Texas and Kentucky, allow journalists, watchdog groups and curious citizens to comb through spending records - comparing historical data, viewing all contracts, tracking grants and economic development projects - through a centralized, searchable, downloadable site.