Maine graded ‘middling’ for state spending transparency

Despite Maine’s effort at government spending transparency, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group on Wednesday issued the state a “C+” for the openness of its checkbook.

Maine’s rank has improved since the launch of its spending transparency site in 2013, but that’s up to 76 points from 68 points (out of 100).

There are many ingredients to crafting a winning and accessible open checkbook site, but a key ingredient appears to be, well… spending.

Ohio rocketed from a grade of 51 last year to a grade of 100, after pumping about $814,000 into a new website that, admittedly, is quite easy to navigate and search.

(Just for fun: Give Ohio’s site a side-by-side with Maine’s spending transparency site and post your ratings of both in the comments.)

Maine, by contrast, spent about $30,000 to get its open checkbook site up and running, with another $25,000 in annual costs for maintaining the site.

Other states ranking high on PIRG’s list spent at least $100,000 on the startup of their sites, but that trend wasn’t perfect. North Dakota spent about $231,000 to start its transparency website, which costs about $30,000 a year to maintain. It received a “D+,” with 64 points, largely because it does not allow bulk downloads of spending data.

Maine got dinged again this year for a lack of data on economic development subsidies. The state got nearly perfect marks for tracking contracts and expenditures, with some downgrade in the category of quasi-public agency spending.

PIRG gave Maine a 5 of 15 for having “checkbook-level” information on economic development subsidies and zeros for information tracking the promise and delivery of public benefits for those subsidies.

But while Maine is “middling” in the rankings, the state hasn’t fallen to the greatest open checkbook irony. That is, not tracking or disclosing the costs to start and maintain a government spending transparency website.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.