Sunshine State officials sending mixed messages on government transparency

tallahasseecapitolA leading consumer protection group is praising Florida’s transparency in regard to spending.

But when it comes to other areas of government business, dark clouds are gathering over the Sunshine State.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which specializes in taking on banks, insurance companies and corporate special interests, awarded Florida an A grade in its new transparency report, Following the Money 2015.

The report analyzes online access to state government spending data. Florida got high marks for several websites and search fields on the state Chief Financial Officer’s homepage.

The user-friendly tools track public expenditures, including hard-to-follow information about state subsidy programs — which tend not to favor taxpayers.

“Not only can ordinary citizens find information on specific vendor payments through easy-to-use search features, but experts and watchdog groups can also download and analyze the entire checkbook dataset,” the report states.

Phineas Baxandall, a senior tax and budget analyst for the Florida PIRG Education Fund, told Watchdog it’s especially important to list spending information that slips public scrutiny and the regular legislative process, such as decisions by pension boards and water management districts.

“Following government spending should be as easy as looking at your own checkbook: Who’s receiving money, when are they receiving it and how much?” he said.

Ohio topped PIRG’s list of 50 states; California finished last.

The report comes as dozens of bills are threatening to restrict access to public records in other areas of state government.

Read more at Watchdog.org

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

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