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Arizona’s Government Transparency Grade Slips Slightly

IMAGE: Byron Schlomach of the Goldwater Institute says Arizona should be more transparent about economic development tax credits and grants, and whether they actually work. CREDIT: Goldwater Institute.
IMAGE: Byron Schlomach of the Goldwater Institute says Arizona should be more transparent about economic development tax credits and grants, and whether they actually work. CREDIT: Goldwater Institute.
March 26, 2013

PHOENIX - Arizona's state government transparency grade has dropped from an "A-minus" last year to a "B" this year, according to the latest "Following the Money" report from the Arizona PIRG Education Fund.

Byron Schlomach of the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute said the lower grade doesn't mean Arizona is slipping back. It just means that over time, other states innovate by providing more information about state spending, and displaying that information in more user-friendly ways on their websites.

"As other states do better jobs, and in some cases surpass Arizona, our grade slips for not keeping up, basically," he said.

Schlomach has worked closely with PIRG on transparency issues.

The "Arizona Open Books" website gets high marks from PIRG for being searchable and providing extensive disclosure about state contracts and spending. However, the state gets dinged for a lack of information about economic development tax credits.

The PIRG report singles out the Arizona Commerce Authority, a state-created corporation that gives out tax money to encourage businesses to relocate or expand in Arizona. Schlomach said it would be useful if the state website disclosed, for example, whether tax credits and grants actually produced jobs.

"It would be good to be able to go to a website and say, 'OK, well, this is what was promised for this tax consideration, but this is what we actually got.' And that allows voters to know: Are these special tax breaks really paying off?"

On the plus side, Schlomach said, the Commerce Authority transparency is greatly improved. Two years ago, the amounts and recipients of nearly half the corporate subsidies given by the Authority were not being made public.

In general, he said, it isn't enough to simply list how much money the state is spending and who's getting that money. He said state government is a lot more complicated than its individual transactions.

"People would like to know what are the terms of contracts, who's getting these contracts, especially over time," he asserted. "Who gets tax benefits, why, how much are they over time?"

PIRG says that for the first time this year, all 50 states are providing online access to some of their checkbook-level information on state spending.

The report is at ArizonaPIRG.org. Arizona's transparency website is OpenBooks.AZ.gov.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ