Transparency

Citizens have a right to know how their governments are spending the money we hand over to them. Transparency is essential if we are to have any confidence state officials have our best interest at heart. But, according to a group called U.S. Public Interest Research Group, local residents have reason to question the opacity of their state governments.

West Virginia, in the group’s annual review, earned a C grade for transparency in government spending. The middle-of-the-road mark means the group found West Virginia has extensive, easy-to-access information on state contracts and spending, but lagged behind when it came to disclosing subsidies for economic development. What the group calls “checkbook-level” spending is readily available for taxpayers to examine, but “off-budget” spending is harder to track.

That means officials in Charleston are doing an acceptable job, for now, but there is work left to be done if we are to have all the information to which we are entitled.

In Ohio, on the other hand, the picture is far less clear. The Buckeye State received a D- from the group. Only four states received poorer scores. Even that checkbook-level spending is difficult for Ohioans to examine. Ohio joins only Alaska and California as states in which there is no effective way to search the data on spending. Online access to spending data in Ohio is severely limited.

Of course, there is not a single state in which access to spending information is entirely unfettered. For example, no where can citizens easily look up spending information for the quasi-public agencies that often receive such large sums of money.

But taxpayers in West Virginia, at least, can take heart that better information about the way their state is spending their hard-earned dollars is within reach. Ohioans must demand of their lawmakers much greater effort to roll back the barriers to information. The means to do so have existed for many years, which begs the question, what do officials in Columbus have to hide?