Arkansas gets “C” in spending transparency report


LITTLE ROCK — A good government watchdog group gave Arkansas a “C” in government spending transparency in its annual report on the subject.

Arkansas got an “F” in last year’s ranking by the U.S. IRG Education Fund based on information gathered prior to launch of the state’s online checkbook last summer, a development that accounted for the higher grade in this year’s report, “Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data.”

The report assigns each state a grade of “A” to “F” based on an inventory of the content and ease-of-use of states’ transparency websites.

Arkansas launched its online checkbook in 2012 and for the first time provides checkbook-level expenditure information online.

Arkansas was one of the top 10 states most improved since last year in this year’s report, which describes Arkansas as an “emerging state,” but still not a leader. It notes that the Arkansas website fails to include checkbook-level information on economic development tax credits and spending by off-budget agencies, as well as the projected and achieved benefits of economic development subsidies.

“State governments across the country have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and businesses that receive public funds accountable,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for tax and budget policy with the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “But Arkansas still has a long way to go.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who during his 2010 election campaign and after taking office pushed for creation of a state online checkbook, welcomed Tuesday’s report.

“This report shows tremendous progress, and that is something as a state we should be proud of. Our transparency website will and has continued to improve,” Darr said.

The report said one of the most striking findings this year is that all 50 states now provide at least some checkbook-level detail about individual government expenditures online. Just three years ago, only 32 states provided state spending information online.