Capitol Alert

California gets ‘F’ for spending transparency in new scorecard

Construction crews hired by Caltrans prepare to remove an old rock wall barrier at Echo Summit in 2011. A report released Wednesday contends that the state does a poor job disclosing what it spends on contracts and other checkbook-level spending.
Construction crews hired by Caltrans prepare to remove an old rock wall barrier at Echo Summit in 2011. A report released Wednesday contends that the state does a poor job disclosing what it spends on contracts and other checkbook-level spending. rpench@sacbee.com

California finishes last in a new review of how states report spending on contracts and other items, with the report’s authors blaming “bureaucratic fragmentation” for the lack of a one-stop web site that would make it easier for average California residents to examine the payments.

Wednesday’s report by the California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund is the seventh by the group that examines the transparency of state governments’ checkbook-level spending. Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and Connecticut are among the states with the best transparency websites, the report found.

California’s transparency website, on the other hand, “struggles with data fragmentation and user accessibility,” according to the report.

“You shouldn’t have to be an expert to be able to follow your tax dollars through California’s government,” Emily Rusch, the fund’s executive director, said in a statement. “Over the course of seven years, most states have made significant transparency improvements. Despite being home to Silicon Valley, California ranks LAST of all 50 states this year.”

Unlike their counterparts in almost every other state, California officials declined to respond to the researchers’ initial findings, according to Wednesday’s report. That was because the state views the education fund’s methodology as “fundamentally flawed,” said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services.

The report’s “notion” that the department is in control of all spending data “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how California government operates,” Ferguson said. In reality, he said, the state “has made remarkable strides in how we share data,” pointing to new datasets available on the state’s open data portal project.

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