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Advocacy group gives Arizona B at providing spending transparency

Serena Unrein, public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, discusses a report giving the state a B in spending transparency. Joining her (from left) are Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, and Scot Mussi, executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Moriah Costa)

Serena Unrein, public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, discusses a report giving the state a B in spending transparency. Joining her (from left) are Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, and Scot Mussi, executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Moriah Costa)

Arizona has improved its transparency on government spending but has a lot of work to do when it comes to providing information on tax credits for businesses, an advocacy group reported Tuesday.

The report by the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund gave Arizona a B for spending transparency, the same grade the state received in 2013. Arizona ranked 19 out of 50 states.

While crediting Arizona for its spending tranparency website, openbooks.az.gov, the report said the state could do more to inform taxpayers on who receives money from economic development subsidies.

“In 2011 the state of Arizona spent nearly $100 million of taxpayer money on corporate tax credits intended to stimulate economic development but the public received no information about the results of these programs or which companies received those tax credits,” Serena Unrein, public interest advocate for Arizona PIRG, said at a news conference outside the State Capitol.

Rep. Darin Mitchell, R- Litchfield Park, and State Comptroller Clark Partridge were among those participating in the news conference.

Mitchell said the state should do more to tell citizens how their money is being spent.

“We got a B, but we can do better,” he said. “Just like your kids: When they come home with B’s, you know they can do better.”

This session, Mitchell authored a bill that would have required the Arizona Department of Revenue to prepare an annual report on recipients of five state tax credits, including how much each company received and how much credit would be carried forward.

The bill passed the House without opposition but failed in a Senate committee. Mitchell said he’ll try again next session.

“The public has a right to know where their money’s being spent and whether or not we’re getting any results for what we’re doing,” he said.

Byron Schlomach, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute, a watchdog group that promotes limited government and free enterprise, said Arizonans should be informed of what businesses receive state money.

“When it comes to corporate welfare schemes, the bottom line is this: The disposition of taxpayer money should never be an industry secret,” he said.

Scot Mussi, executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, said state officials should be accountable not only for where money is spent but whether it’s being spent ethically.

“Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being delegated and whether they’re getting their bang for the buck both for accountability and transparency purposes but also to determine that everything is being done in a manner that is what would be considered ethical and voids corruption,” he said.

Partridge, who oversees openbooks.az.gov, said it takes hard work and dedication by his staff to keep the site updated.

“I appreciate the opportunity to continue to provide insights to the citizens of the state of Arizona into the operations of state government,” he said.

PIRG’s grades:

1. Indiana A-
2. Oregon A-
3. Florida A-
4. Texas A-
5. Massachusetts A-
6. Iowa A-
7. Vermont A-
8. Wisconsin A-
9. South Dakota B+
10. North Carolina B+
11. Illinois B+
12. Louisiana B+
13. New York B+
14. Virginia B+
15. Michigan B
16. Colorado B
17. Montana B
18. Washington B
19. Arizona B

Note: Connecticut, Kentucky and Tennessee also received B’s.

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