The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s fourth annual report, “ Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” grades all 50 states on how easy their websites are to use in determining how state government spends its money. Grades are based on whether website users can view the payments made to individual companies and details about the goods or services purchased.

Maine’s improvement ranked among the top 10 in 2013, according to The research group. The group attributed the state’s progress to the January 2013 launch of Maine Open Checkbook, a website that allows users to track state expenditures for 2012. The report lists the start-up cost for the website to be $30,000.

“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,” Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for tax and budget policy with the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, said in a prepared statement. “But Maine still has a long way to go.”

The report praises Maine Open Checkbook for providing “searchable and checkbook-level data on contracts, non-contract spending and economic development tax credits in an easy-to-use format.” However, it faults the website for failing to offer information on grants, economic development subsidies and budgets for agencies such as the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Maine ranks 37th overall among the 50 U.S. states, the same as last year, but up from its place at the bottom of the list in 2011. The state’s C-minus grade places it with 21 other states in the “emerging” category. Maine’s numeric score is 68, the same as Kansas. Last year, Maine scored a 54.

Texas earned the highest numeric grade, 96, followed by Massachusetts, which earned a 93. North Dakota received the lowest score, 31. California, Hawaii, Wyoming and Wisconsin also received F marks.

New Hampshire scored a B-plus with 80.5, while Vermont earned a C-plus with 77 points.

The report notes that 2013 is the first year that all 50 states offer “some checkbook-level information on state spending via the Internet.” All but two states, California and Vermont, provide that information in a searchable format.

“The state of Maine should build upon this year’s progress and further improve the breadth and ease-of-access of online government spending information,” said Baxandall. “Given the state’s difficult budget choices, Mainers need to be able to follow the money.”


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