Study evaluates transparency of Mo. spending

Apr 10, 2014

The Missouri Public Research Group Foundation, a non-partisan organization, conducted a study to rate each of the 50 states on how well they provide online access to government spending data.  Missouri received a C+.  Phineas Baxandall, a Senior Analyst for Tax and Budget Policy for the U.S. Public Research Group Foundation, says though a lot of spending information is easily accessible, information on some subsidies or funds given to non-governmental is hard to find.

“Missouri was doing a good job with giving searchable data on a wide range of contracts that you can access with different kinds of search methods.” Baxandall said.  “It was much less good when it came to transparency of subsidies.”

Baxandall says Missouri is good about reporting salaries and direct state expenditures. Even several subsidy programs are well reported.  The problems appear when individuals try to find information on some Tax Increment Financing programs and quasi-public agencies, which are funded by fees or some other means outside of the state’s general fund.  Baxandall says the nature of these agencies is the reason there’s no concerted effort to improve their transparency.

“The very independence of those agencies means that they’re not integrated into the accounting system.” Baxandall said.  “They’re politically independent from the governor’s office and certainly from the legislature.  There was no special budget or sanctions for not doing it.”

This is Missouri’s second year receiving a C-level grade.  The state improved from a “C” last year to a “C+” this year.  The group says the states who lead the rankings provide checkbook-level data on subsidy recipients for the state’s most important economic development programs, economic development subsidies and “off-budget” quasi-public agencies.  Six states currently provide this information.  The group did not find any correlation between the level of transparency and the party affiliation of state leadership.

Information on Missouri spending is available online at mapyourtaxes.mo.gov.