The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report.
“Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.”
Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches.
Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats.
The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago.
Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues.
Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website.
“We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”