April 11, 2014

Arizona Earns B for State Spending Transparency

Evaluation conducted by Public Interest Research Group; more room for improvement in tax subsidies to attract companies to move here.

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Arizona earned a B in a state spending transparency evaluation by the Public Interest Research Group, which means it is doing a good job, but has room for improvement in tax subsidies to attract companies to move here.

Unlike many other states, Arizona's Treasurer’s office has an online, searchable database in which anyone can see how Arizona is spending taxpayer money. PIRG used the website OpenBooks, operated by the General Accounting Office.

The grade of B, and a score of 84 out of 100, puts Arizona ahead of 31 other states for its level of transparency in state spending record availability. The organization looks for checkbook-level detail of all state expenses, and easy online access to the information.

No state earned a perfect score, but eight received A grades, according to the PIRG report.

"When we first started doing this research five years ago, Arizona didn’t have an online transparency website, so we received an F for transparency when it came to state spending," said Serena Unrein, a public interest advocate with the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. "In five years we’ve really improved the quality and amount of information that’s available to the public.”

The state could improve its grade by being more clear about how economic development tax credits are distributed, she said.

"State law currently prohibits disclosing recipients of corporate economic development tax credits and getting that information is really key to being able to assess if taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently," she said.

State Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, introduced a bill this legislative session to require the state to annually disclose any corporate tax credits worth more than $5,000. The bill passed in the Arizona House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate Commerce Committee on March 12.

Searchable state spending records are available at azcheckbook.com.

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