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CO Makes "Honor Roll" for Transparency in Spending

PHOTO: Colorado's advancements in transparency in government spending have earned the state high marks in a report by CoPIRG. Photo courtesy Colorado Fiscal Institute.
PHOTO: Colorado's advancements in transparency in government spending have earned the state high marks in a report by CoPIRG. Photo courtesy Colorado Fiscal Institute.
April 23, 2014

DENVER - For government transparency, Colorado gets high marks in a new national evaluation of state spending by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

The state went from a grade of D-plus to a B for 2013, earning recognition for greater online access to how public money is spent. CoPIRG director Danny Katz explained why the availability of this information is so important.

"Transparency is important because it can help the government save money, it can measure progress towards policy goals, and it can help hold recipients of public funds accountable," he said.

Colorado now has an online portal called the Transparency Online Project (TOPS). Nationwide, the state ranks 16th for providing online access to spending data.

Another contributor to the state's higher grade is the availability of a biannual Tax Expenditure Report, after a bill passed in 2011 that was championed by the Colorado Fiscal Institute. Ali Mickelson, a tax policy attorney for the institute, explained why her organization pushed so hard for these reports.

"It's a great way to evaluate who's paying taxes, how much taxes people are paying, as well as where our tax dollars go, how much money is going out the door," she said. "All of that we didn't have before, and it's just a really important thing for everybody to have."

The cost to create the website portal for Coloradans to gain greater access was $200,000, and it costs a little less than $170,000 annually to maintain. State lawmakers are considering allocating additional funds to enhance the site. Katz said he believes it's money well spent.

"We're really hoping that they get this money," he said, "and then they use this money wisely to build the kind of platform that will allow them to do all sorts of great innovative things moving forward - that will allow them to continue to give these tools to the average consumer, to the small business owner, to whoever is looking for it."

On Colorado's website, people now have access to information about more than $500 million in subsidies. The stated goal of the TOP system is to "reduce the time and cost associated with open-records requests, and to maximize convenience for the state's citizens."

The report is online at copirg.org. TOPS is at tops.state.co.us.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - CO