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Today the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA) launched a state budget transparency website called Arizona OpenBooks (http://openbooks.az.gov). Legislation passed in 2008 required the website to be launched by January 1, 2011.
“The public has a right to see how their government is spending tax dollars. The launch of the state budget transparency website will provide Arizonans with much more information about where tax money goes,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “Budget transparency promotes fiscal responsibility, bolsters public confidence in government, and checks corruption.”
A growing number of states across the country are creating transparency websites so that the public can easily access budget information online. At least 35 states mandate or have dedicated themselves to the creation of websites that give the public access to an online database of government expenditures.
“Amid all the dark budget news in Arizona, the recently-launched state budget transparency website provides taxpayers with a ray of light,” said Unrein. “This website will provide Arizonans with much more information about where their tax money goes.”
The Arizona PIRG Education Fund and 32 other groups recommended to ADOA that the state budget transparency website meet “Transparency 2.0” criteria, meaning that the website should be comprehensive, one-stop, and one-click searchable.
“While the new website is a giant step forward for transparency in Arizona, it lacks important information that we hope will be added in the future,” said Unrein. “The best state transparency websites include detailed information about government purchasing, contracts, tax subsidies and special grants to businesses. Unfortunately, none of that information is currently included on the Arizona OpenBooks website right now.”
Currently purchasing information is not available on the state transparency website. “This means that rather than reflecting what the state ordered from a company, the budget transparency website simply shows what the state paid,” said Unrein. “Without the ability to see purchase orders or their purpose, it is much more difficult to identify possible inefficiency, waste, or fraud.”
In March the Arizona PIRG Education Fund will be releasing an updated report grading state transparency websites. In last year’s Following the Money report, Arizona received an ‘F’ because of the lack of budget information the state provided to taxpayers. This year’s report will grade Arizona based on its new state transparency site.
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