State Financial Transparency and State Partisan Character

State Financial Transparency and State Partisan Character

U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), not generally noted for the praise it lavishes on government, has just issued a report that is, in many ways, glowing.

Yesterday’s press release quoted Phineas Baxandall, who is senior analyst with the USPIRG Education Fund, giving an overall positive assessment of state efforts at financial transparency:

“State governments across the country have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and recipients of public subsidies accountable.”

Florida, this year, is an “A-“ state for transparency, according to USPIRG. Florida has the third highest score nationally, slightly behind Indiana and Oregon and slightly ahead of Texas. (It is worth noting that none of the states achieved a solid ‘A’ on the USPIRG grading scale.)

USPIRG’s transparency map reveals something interesting about government transparency, especially when compared to a standard a partisan-based map like the one on the right (courtesy of the University of Michigan) (where red states voted for Romney and blue for Obama in November 2012). (Not shown: Alaska – red; Hawaii – blue)

graphic 4.9.14graphic 2_4.9.14

At first glance, the maps seem to lack any relationship. One can find A states that are red and A states that are blue. One can find F states that are red and F states that are blue. Looks like transparency is a nonpartisan issue.

But first impressions can be deceiving. Here are some numerical comparisons:

  • Of the eight states in the “A” grade bracket, 75% are blue states.
  • Of the three states in the “F” grade bracket, 66% are red states.
  • Proportionately, 8.3% of red states are “A” states and 8.3% are “F” states.
  • In contrast, 23.1% of blue states are “A” states and 3.8% are “F” states.

If one assigns points to the letter grades on the traditional 4-point scale (with a minus grade being .25 below a full grade and a plus grade .25 above, one way of doing the calculations), Blue states have an average grade right between a B and C (GPA = 2.54) , while red states have a C+ (GPA=2.27).

Of course, there are innumerable other variables that may play a role in fostering state government transparency. But this primitive analysis suggests both that transparency in state government is not the domain of any one party, and that states that voted democratic the last time around are somewhat more likely to take it seriously.

2 Responses to State Financial Transparency and State Partisan Character

  • jimfrishe

    In imputing partisan tilt to state policy, a better gauge can be found than presidential votes. Since you are looking at state level policy, I would recommend the following categories:
    1- states with one party control.
    2- states with executives of one party and legislatures of another.
    3- states with divided legislatures.

    I have no idea how this would look, but I think it would be more instructive of the character of the state as relates to state policy.

    Another interesting view might be to see if population density has an impact. Just a thougbg

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      Absolutely right, Jim. I’m intrigued by the question of what factors may be related to greater government transparency, and partisanship was one natural source. But your are correct that there probably are better measures (or at least different measures that would test different notions of the influence of partisanship). I’m also looking at some other factors. Stay tuned. And thanks for reading!