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Kentucky Gets ‘B’ Grade In Government Transparency

Brendan McCarthy

The national leader just five years ago, Kentucky is starting to fall behind other states in disclosing how state government spends the public’s money.In the first four years of its Following the Money report, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group gave Kentucky an “A” grade for its so-called “transparency” of governance. Through the state’s OpenDoor websitecreated by Gov. Steve Beshear in 2009, you could look up state employees’ salaries, state agency purchases, campaign contributions, corporate tax breaks, the names of contract recipients and much more.Kentucky, though, received only a “B” grade this time around. Not because it was less transparent, but because other states became more so, said Phineas Baxandall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the 2014 report, which was released today.“Kentucky was a leader, a quick starter on this,” Baxandall said, “but as often happens, followers are doing it better and more thoroughly than Kentucky.”Some states are disclosing more information about their economic development programs. Massachusetts is extending transparency to cities and towns. Indiana discloses when it reclaims money from companies that fail to deliver on promises tied to economic incentive packages.Kentucky still received the highest possible scores for the level of detail it provides on contracts and expenditures, as well as for the ability to search by recipient, keyword and agency. It scored low on the availability of downloadable, bulk data and was less than stellar in its disclosure of economic development subsidies information.Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy in Berea, said OpenDoor was a helpful first step in making state information to citizens on a single website. He stopped short of declaring state government fully transparent.“My biggest complaint about transparency currently is that the state budget director’s office still has not released the new version of the state’s tax expenditure report, even though it was due by law Nov. 30,” Bailey stated in an e-mail to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.“This is an essential document for good budgetary decision-making in that it itemizes and estimates the cost of all of the tax exemptions, tax breaks and tax preferences buried in the tax code,” he wrote.Bailey said the report, which is still not released, is an essential document for “good budgetary decision-making.”State Budget Director Jane Driskell said it should be published in a couple weeks. “We’ve had some issues doing a review of some of the changes in the tax code,” she added.This story was reported by the  Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, part of  Louisville Public Media. You can find out more and see more stories  at the KyCIR website.

James McNair is a veteran investigative reporter who specializes in business and finance issues.

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