Report Notes Improved Web Access to N.J. Expenditures

Asbury Park Press
Bill Bowman

Adding "checkbook level" searching to the state's "transparency center" website boosted its rating in an annual survey of how well state governments show how they spend taxpayer money.

More improvements to the site are expected, said a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie.

The state received a C+ from the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group in its annual "Following the Money" report. The advocacy group and its nationwide affiliates rank states' fiscal openness in 12 areas, including searching expenditures by contractor, showing how American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money is spent and making contract information available.

In the most recent report, released last week, NJPIRG noted that "New Jersey upgraded its transparency website so that it is now checkbook-level, allowing visitors to track the payments made to individual vendors." 

"Last year, the transparency portal only provided visitors with limited information such as aggregate spending numbers for departments and agencies. Visitors can now track specific amounts paid to general contractors, subcontractors, consultants and many other business entities, all the way back to 2004," the report noted. "New Jersey has also joined several other leaders in transparency by providing visitors with a link to its tax expenditure report, which did not exist before 2009."

The state scored 78 out of a possible 100 points.

NJPIRG's report characterized the state's effort in transparency as "emerging," but with "serious deficiencies."

The areas in which the state scored the lowest are:

- Economic Development Incentives and Grants: 2 points out of 10.

- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding linked: 0 points out of 2.

- Local and county spending: 0 points out of 2.

- Contract or summary information available: 3 points out of 10.

The state received perfect scores in providing "checkbook-level" expenditure information, allowing searches by contractor name and activity area, making the information downloadable, making past contracts available, allowing feedback and showing how quasi-public agencies spend money.

"The good news is that since last year's 'Following the Money' report, New Jersey's government has become more transparent about where the money goes," Jennifer Kim, an NJPIRG advocate, said in a news release.