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Bruce Speight,
WISPIRG Foundation

States are Making More Effective Use of Web to Inform Taxpayers about Economic Stimulus Spending

A report released today shows that many states are making dramatic improvements in websites designed to disseminate information about their share of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), while others have failed to make vital information available.

This is the finding of Show Us the Stimulus (Again), a report released today by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) and produced by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center based in Washington, DC. The report released today at 1 p.m. Eastern time updates a similar study published last July.

The full text of the report as well as the appendix for Wisconsin and other states can be found at www.goodjobsfirst.org/stimulusweb.cfm.

“Some states are making great strides in fulfilling President Obama’s promise that the Recovery Act would be carried out with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “Led by Maryland, which again receives the highest score, these states’ ARRA websites do a good job in helping taxpayers understand and evaluate the role of the Recovery Act in job creation and state fiscal relief.”

The study examines the quality and quantity of disclosure by official state websites on the many different ways that more than $200 billion in ARRA funding is flowing through state governments to communities, organizations and individuals. It examines the availability of information on spending programs as well as specific grants and contracts including data relating to jobs and the geographic distribution of spending within states. Using seven main criteria, each state was graded on a scale of 0 to 100. Wisconsin received a score of 72.

“One virtue of the federal economic stimulus program is an unprecedented level of public access to information about where money is going. We congratulate Wisconsin officials for having one of the nation’s most complete and accessible Internet sites for stimulus information,” said Jack Norman, Research Director for Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. “We hope the web site sets the new standard for transparency regarding all state operations as well. While it can be improved—by adding details about the quality of jobs created by stimulus funding, for example—it is an example of Wisconsin public service at its best.”

The states scoring highest for transparency of stimulus funds in the new report are: Maryland (87), Kentucky (85), Connecticut (80), Colorado (72), Minnesota (72), Wisconsin (72), California (69), Illinois (69), Oregon (67), Massachusetts (65), Georgia (64), West Virginia (64), New Mexico (62), New York (62), Pennsylvania (62), Montana (61) and Arkansas (60).

At the other end, the ten states with the least adequate information on ARRA programs and specific projects, starting from the worst scoring, are: North Dakota (5), District of Columbia (6), Missouri (10), Alaska (13), Vermont (13), Louisiana (16), Mississippi (17), Idaho (18), Oklahoma (18), Texas (18) and South Carolina (19).

Although changes in methodology make exact comparisons impossible, some states improved greatly since a similar ranking in July. Kentucky soared from 47th place to 2nd; Illinois jumped from 50th to 7th; Minnesota climbed from 34th to 4th and Utah rose from 50th to 24th place.

“We are impressed by ‘Cinderella’ states such as Kentucky and Illinois, which were ranked at the bottom in our previous assessment but broke into the top tier in the new ranking,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of both reports. “Numerous others have also improved their sites and are effectively incorporating the data states are helping to collect for the federal government’s Recovery.gov website. The state sites and Recovery.gov both have vital roles to play in helping the public evaluate the Recovery Act’s performance.”

Here are highlights of specific findings:

•    Most states do a good job of providing information on the composition of their ARRA spending, both in broad program categories (energy, housing, transportation, etc.) and in narrower ones. Only the District of Columbia provides no program allocation information at all.

•    Geographic breakdowns (by county or locality) are less common than summaries of spending by program category. Twenty-seven states provide geographic information, often with interactive maps. Wisconsin’s site does provide this information.

•    Only three states—Kentucky, Maryland and Wisconsin—provide side-by-side comparison of the geographic distribution of spending with patterns of economic distress or need within the state.

•    Besides overall spending amounts, state residents can see where individual ARRA projects such as the repaving of a road or repair of a school building are taking place. More than half the states (28) now have some kind of project mapping feature on their ARRA site. Wisconsin’s site does provide this information.

•    Via maps or otherwise, Wisconsin joined 41 states in providing one or more of the following types of detail on projects funded through ARRA grants and contracts: description, dollar amount, recipient name, completion status, and the full text of contracts or grant awards. Four states—Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and New Hampshire—included all these elements.

•    Ten states have no information about actual job creation on their websites: Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and the District of Columbia. By contrast, 16 states list jobs data on individual projects as well as totals by program area and for the state as a whole.

•    Only five states—Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi and New Hampshire—provide the full texts of at least some ARRA contract awards.

“We are very pleased to see Wisconsin’s good ranking in this analysis.  The Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Project was founded on the principle that the community has the right to know how public dollars are being used to create jobs,” said Pamela Fendt, GJLN Project Coordinator for Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This website provides us with a good tool for putting this principle into action in Wisconsin.”

 “Wisconsin has become a leader for transparency of stimulus spending. This is a good first step to bringing Wisconsin’s online transparency up to speed.” said Johanna Lathrop, Advocate for the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group.

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