Texas is Tops for Fiscal Transparency

Texas is ranked top in the country for transparency in government spending. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group gives Texas a grade of “A” for being “one of the true leaders in the transparency movement,” and gave the state the highest possible score in 10 out of 12 scoring categories.

The Harvard Kennedy School’s ASH Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation awarded Open Book Texas, the state’s transparency and open government portal a Bright Idea Award for its innovative approach to making as much state and local government financial data as accessible to the public as possible.

Transparency Boosts Public Confidence and Fiscal Responsibility

The ability to see how government uses the public purse is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, and promotes fiscal responsibility.  State governments across the country have been moving toward making their checkbooks transparent by creating online transparency portals – government-operated websites that allow visitors to see who receives state money and for what purposes.

“Our office is proud to be at the forefront of transparency efforts throughout the nation,” says Comptroller Susan Combs, who has pushed for greater online access to government spending data since taking office in 2007. “We constantly look for ways to put more government information online, using new tools to make data accessible and understandable to taxpayers.”

U.S.PIRG says 40 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with checkbook-level detail, making it easier for citizens to follow the money and monitor government spending. But the group says a far greater effort is needed. Only nine states earned grades of “A” or “B” for transparency. Texas’ big-state competitors, New York and California, received a “C” and a “D+,” respectively.

  • Nine of the 40 states are “leading states” in the transparency movement, hosting searchable, user-friendly websites that provide comprehensive information on a range of government expenditures. Most of these states provide detailed information on the grants and economic development incentives awarded to companies and organizations; and more than half provide complete copies of contracts.
  • Thirty-one states are “emerging states” with transparency websites that provide less comprehensive information or, in some cases, are not easily searchable.
  • Ten other states are “lagging states,” whose online transparency efforts fail to meet the standards of Transparency 2.0. Maine is the only state that does not host government spending transparency websites that are accessible to the public.

Texas Transparency Push

On Combs’ third day in office, the agency was the first in Texas to open its books and reveal how it spends taxpayer dollars. Later, Combs began posting other state agency expenditures on the Where the Money Goes website, the state’s online check register. That effort has expanded into the Texas Transparency Web portal, an open-books initiative geared toward anyone interested in Texas government financial information.

  • The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act: An Eye on Texas Dollars web page tracks the disbursement, spending and accounting of the billions of federal stimulus dollars that pass through the Texas state treasury to state agencies.
  • The Local Government Transparency (www.texastransparency.org/local) webpage tracks the Texas cities, counties, school districts and special districts that have their budgets, annual financial reports or check registers posted on their websites.
  • The Where the Money Comes From webpage tracks the source of Texas’ revenues by category, such as federal income, state taxes, net lottery proceeds and investment income, and identifies the amount allocated to state agencies.

Leadership Circle Recognizes Local Government Transparency Leaders

The Texas Comptroller’s Leadership Circle Program encourages and recognizes those local governments who are working toward transparency, while enhancing transparency for every citizen at the local level.

Many success stories shared by Texas local governments recount that their transparency initiatives were implemented in just a few hours by in-house staff without affecting budgets. By Aug. 24, 2010, 228 Texas cities, counties, school districts and special districts had been inducted into the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle in recognition of transparency initiatives.

Collin, Grayson and Randall counties, for example, earned a perfect transparency score of 15 points by meeting all transparency best practices developed by the Comptroller’s office, including posting their budget, annual financial report and check register on the entities’ own website.

Case Studies

Veribest ISD Opens up to its Taxpayers and Earns their Trust

Veribest Independent School District (ISD) has published its budgets, financial reports, check registers, tax statements and board meeting minutes online.

Veribest’s taxpayers, employees and students can learn how the district spends its budget by accessing the monthly check register online.

Sealy Scores Gold

Sealy was among the first cities to apply for the Comptroller's Leadership Circle and initially earned a silver award in January 2010. Not satisfied, city officials added a check register and other features and reapplied to earn the gold designation.

Lakeway MUD is Clearly Transparent

The Lakeway Municipal Utility District demonstrates a strong commitment to transparency and openness at all levels. It invites customers to participate in the MUD's decision-making process and uses its website as a comprehensive tool to promote citizen input and involvement.

Links

Consumer advocacy group U.S.PIRG’s full report, Following the Money 2011.

Visit the Texas Transparency website. Users are invited to provide feedback on the site by filling out a brief survey.