Nebraska’s state transparency website, StateSpending.Nebraska.gov, received a B+ grade and tied for 17th place among all 50 states in the 2015 Following the Money report issued Wednesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), State Treasurer Don Stenberg said today.
By law, StateSpending.Nebraska.gov is maintained by the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office.
The website received a numerical score of 87 out of 100, placing Nebraska in the list of “Advancing States” in the sixth annual Following the Money report issued by U.S. PIRG, a private, independent organization. In 2010, the year before Stenberg took office as State Treasurer, the website received a D rating. The website’s rating has been in the B range for the past three years.
“This is good news. We have worked hard to improve StateSpending.Nebraska.gov so that the website is user-friendly, up-to-date, and as comprehensive as we can make it at this time,” Stenberg said. “Visitors to the site can be assured that we are making available all the information that is accessible to the State Treasurer’s Office.”
StateSpending.Nebraska.gov, formerly known as NebraskaSpending.gov, averages about 1,000 visits a month with the average user spending about 2 ½ minutes on the site and viewing an average of 3 ½ pages per visit. Visitors came from 40 states. The most popular pages visited, aside from the homepage, were the University of Nebraska, State of Nebraska Contracts, Fiscal Year Expenditures, and 2014-2015 Expenditures.
Nebraska received a perfect score in the contracts and expenditures categories, which have traditionally defined state transparency websites. Information is at the checkbook level and is searchable by recipient, keyword, and agency, the report noted.
Starting last year, however, U.S. PIRG placed greater scoring emphasis on economic development program costs and benefits to specific companies and the resulting public benefits. Nebraska law prohibits the public disclosure of much of that information in many cases. If that information could be disclosed, Stenberg said, Nebraska’s grade would be 98, making it one of the highest scores in the United States.
Nebraska was one of three states tying for the 17th spot in U.S. PIRG’s 2015 ranking of all 50 states. Sharing the 17th spot with Nebraska were Maryland and Michigan.
The U.S. PIRG report emphasized that the state’s grade is not a reflection of the agency that manages the transparency website, but rather “reflects the entire state government’s provision of tools and information to access spending data through the online transparency portal.
“Improving transparency may require other offices or quasi-public agencies to provide information in a usable format, additional funding from the state legislature, or changes to laws and regulations outside the control of the managing office. Best practices in spending transparency typically require collaboration from several parts of state government,” the report continued.
U.S. PIRG said the following about Advancing States, including Nebraska:
“Advancing States… have checkbooks that are searchable by recipient, keyword and agency. [and]… allow users to download all or part of the checkbook data for off-line analysis. In addition, all Advancing States follow the best practices of producing and posting their tax expenditure reports online, providing summaries of the tax revenue forgone from tax exemptions, credits and other breaks. All Advancing States provide information on the value of subsidies received by companies for at least two of the state’s important subsidy programs … All but two of the Advancing States also provide some information on the public benefits— either anticipated or actual— of the subsidies.”
The report assessed the following economic development subsidy programs available in Nebraska and included the criteria that were fulfilled for each:
U.S. PIRG said it looks for three basic qualities when evaluating state transparency websites:
U.S. PIRG said transparency websites “come with a low price tag” and can actually save money for states when it comes to negotiating contracts, increasing competition, and reducing Freedom of Information Act requests.
The full report is available at uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2015.