The Patrick-Murray Administration has been committed to an unprecedented level of transparency since it took office six years ago. At that time, Massachusetts was given a failing grade for sharing information on state spending with the public according to the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG). Since that time, the Commonwealth’s transparency rating has steadily improved and MassPIRG gave the state an A- in 2012. Fulfilling a promise to build a more open government, the Administration, through CPAT, has created new tools and strategies to share more information than ever before on state governments’ spending and performance.
The most important transparency initiative implemented in recent years is the Commonwealth’s Open Checkbook. Launched in December 2011, the Open Checkbook provides the public with easy access to state spending information. During the last year, the Administration has continued to make enhancements to the site, adding new content such as information on 13 categories of tax credits. Since its launch, the Open Checkbook has received more than 420,000 hits and will continue to be an important source of spending data for residents of the Commonwealth.
In addition to the Open Checkbook, the presentation of the new program-based budget is a vital step forward in the Administration’s transparency efforts. For too long, the presentation of the budget has been more about informing government insiders than engaging the public – satisfying accounting requirements as opposed to meeting democratic and civic demands. The program budget is part of efforts to make the budget more accessible and understandable to state residents. It sets out state spending in more detail than ever before, showing:
- How the Commonwealth is investing its dollars – not just which department or accounts received the money;
- The actual programs provided by state government– not just the legal language prescribing how certain funds can be used; and
- All funding sources supporting these programs (including federal, capital, trust and budgetary or operating accounts) – not just the budgetary appropriations that have been traditionally presented in the Governor’s Budget Recommendation.
The Next Phase of Transparency
Building on the progress the Administration has made to make government more open, CPAT will do the following in 2013:
- Refresh the State’s Transparency Website – upgrades to the site will aim to make the provision and presentation of information on revenues, spending and performance more resident-centric and interactive to support civic engagement;
- Enhance the Open Checkbook – the site’s content will be expanded to include expenditures for several independent state agencies. The first of which will be the MBTA and the School Building Authority. In addition, the Water Pollution Abatement Trust’s administrative expenses will be included. It is also expected that spending information for other independent agencies will be added to the Open Checkbook this year;
- Make More Data Publicly Available– the state’s Open Data Initiative will make more state data sets available for users interested in supporting government’s efforts to achieve better results; and
- Publish Performance Information – as mentioned above, performance reports for each Secretariat will be published next year with the Governor’s FY15 Budget Recommendation. These reports, which will contain detailed performance data, will update the public on progress made in delivering Secretariat strategic goals.