Nebraska’s state transparency website, StateSpending.Nebraska.gov, received an A- rating in the latest report issued this week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), State Treasurer Don Stenberg said today.
StateSpending.Nebraska.gov, by law, is maintained by the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office.
The Nebraska website received a score of 90 out of a possible 100 points, placing it in the top “Leading States” category. Nebraska tied with South Dakota for 17th place out of the 50 states. In 2015, Nebraska received a B+ in the ratings, scoring 87 out of 100 points. In 2011 when Stenberg took office, the website had a D rating.
“I am very pleased with this recognition of the substantial improvements we have made to the website over the past five and one-half years,” State Treasurer Stenberg said today.
U.S. PIRG evaluates websites based on the following standards: websites must be comprehensive, users must be able to access the information at one stop, and the information must be searchable and downloadable. The top-scoring states were Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Oregon.
In issuing this year’s report, U.S. PIRG specifically mentioned that Nebraska was among five states “that now prominently feature data on quasi-public entities with web pages dedicated solely to these agencies, boards, authorities and commissions.”
LB851, which was passed by the Legislature on Wednesday and sent to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, broadened the Nebraska’s Taxpayer Transparency Act to include checkbook-level financial information from quasi-public entities including the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority and the Nebraska State Fair Board.
“This A- rating recognizes the significant steps we have taken over the past several years to improve the depth and breadth of information on the website, specifically our most recent efforts to include quasi-public agencies’ finances on the public website. I am grateful to State Sen. John McCollister for introducing LB851 and for supporting government transparency,” Stenberg said.
“Because quasi-public agencies are created by state statute to carry out important public functions and, in many cases, to manage substantial public resources, I strongly believe they should have the same level of transparency as do state agencies and Constitutional offices,” Stenberg said. “Transparency fosters accountability, increases public engagement, and improves efficiency in government.”
In discussing the addition of quasi-public agencies to transparency websites, U.S. PIRG said the following:
“In recent years, a number of states have begun to address the fact that quasi-public entities have traditionally inhabited a murky corner of the public square. With webpages dedicated solely to these agencies, boards, authorities and commissions prominently featured on their transparency sites, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Washington have entered the ranks of states that are making financial information for at least some of their quasi-public agencies more accessible.”
The report mention the Nebraska legislation, which had not been passed at the time the report was written, saying that the Nebraska legislation would codify “a practice that many states have been pursuing more informally.”
In discussing the Leading States category, which includes Nebraska, U.S. PIRG said the following:
Nebraska lost points in the U.S. PIRG evaluation for providing incomplete financial information on recipients of the state’s major economic development subsidy programs, including the Employment and Investment Growth Act, the Nebraska Advantage Act, the Nebraska Research and Development Act. U.S. PIRG said only 11 states provide checkbook-level information on the recipients of each of its most important subsidy programs. And 12 states do not provide any recipient-specific details on the benefits – either projected or actual – of economic development programs.
“Without this information, watchdog groups and concerned citizens cannot ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from the subsidy programs,” U.S. PIRG said.
The complete U.S. PIRG Following the Money 2016 report can be accessed at http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usf/following-money-2016.