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Report: Texas gets a “C-” for economic development transparency

More than a third of states received an “F”

Texas received a “C-” for making critical information about how governments are subsidizing business projects with taxpayer dollars readily available to the public online, according to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group. Following the Money 2019, the organization’s tenth evaluation of online government spending transparency, gives 17 states a failing grade, while only four states received a grade of “B” or higher.

Texas received an “C-” grade because it lost points for having no laws requiring either a grants report or an online portal database that includes its economic development payments. On the other hand, Texas got full credit for its annually published tax expenditure report.

"As taxpayers, we should be able to see how government spends our money down to the dime," said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund Director. "That includes the billions of dollars that state and local governments give away each year to lure businesses into their backyards."

U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group’s Following the Money reports have evaluated states on online spending transparency since 2010. While many states have made progress towards providing citizens access to government spending information online, this year’s report finds economic development reporting is still lagging behind.

"It's often easier for citizens to see when a state hands a company $50 for printer ink than when it hands a company a million dollars to relocate its headquarters," said R.J. Cross, report lead author and policy analyst at Frontier Group. "States have moved light years ahead in the last decade when it comes to providing information on basic government spending online. But when it comes to economic development subsidies, most are still in the dark ages."

The report graded each state’s transparency efforts from “A” to “F” based on the availability of online reports detailing how much the state spends through tax breaks and direct grant programs; the availability of information on individual payments to companies on the state’s transparency site; and the existence of state laws that require ongoing reporting of information on economic development subsidies to the public.

“Transparency checks corruption and enables citizens to hold their elected officials accountable,” finished Cross. “Without access to information, it’s impossible to know how fully these corporate subsidies are serving the public’s interest.”

To read the full report and see the full list of rankings: https://uspirg.org/feature/usp/following-money-2019-economic-development-subsidies

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