- State websites outperformed local websites with 26 percent scoring in the “A” range, and 60 percent scoring a “B” or above.
- Whereas 28 percent of counties scored a “B” or above and 44 percent of cities scoring a “B” or above.
- School districts had the most dismal grades with only 20 percent of school districts scoring a “B” or above.
- A larger majority of states failed to receive “A” because of their failure to proactively disclosing lobbying data, disclosing how to attain public records and ease-of-use for tracking down data.
- The top five best performing states were California, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington.
- The five worst performing states include: Alabama, Kentucky Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota.
The Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA) is a comprehensive Utah law dealing with the management of public records. “It is an attempt to balance the public’s constitutional right of access to information concerning public business, the individual’s constitutional right of privacy when the government gathers personal data, and the public policy interest in allowing a government to restrict access to certain records for the public good.”
Under GRAMA, the Utah Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, responds to requests for information regarding records that are prepared, owned or retained by the Attorney General’s office. Individuals seeking information from other agencies may make a GRAMA request directly to the agency that holds the records.
In 2011, Utah legislators attempted to limit the amount of information accessible via GRAMA requests. These attempts were met with ardent criticism from transparency activists, community members, and many legislators. Ultimately, the changes were rejected. Not only does Utah continue to lead the way with strong, proactive transparency legislation, public involvement and influence on the legislative process has also remained strong.
Now, as Utah legislators consider expanding and improving the state transparency laws, legislators are sure to include input from the public and other interested parties. It is the efforts of the government and public working together that is extraordinary and obviously beneficial. The successes in Utah are demonstrative that contributions from the public and the efforts of the government implementing those ideas produce the best results.
For more information on getting involved, visit Sunshine Standard.
Google’s transparency report includes real time and historical traffic to Google services around the world, numbers of removal requests from copyright owners and governments, and number of user data requests received from government agencies and courts.
A report is filed every six months and the most recent report, filed last week, discloses the number of requests that Google is receiving from governments. In the lead? The United States.
The United States government had 7,696 requests for user data, including those issued by authorities on behalf of other governments pursuant to mutual legal assistance treaties and other diplomatic mechanisms. India requests the next highest user data requests with just 2,319 requests; less than a third of the United States.
Of the requests by the United States, Google satisfied 90% of the requests. Overwhelmingly, the government looked for defamation, privacy and security and “other” information. The total number of worldwide requests from January to June 2012 rose from 18, 257 to 20,938.
PASSED: Proposition 30
Governor Jerry Brown proposed and promoted Proposition 30 as a tax hike to benefit the state’s schools. Weighed down by nearly $617 billion of debt, it was fairly easy for Governor Brown to make a strong case that California’s schools would need additional revenue. Proposition 30 passed within a comfortable margin—7.8% or approximately 700,000 votes.
The tax hike is anchored in sales tax revenues, raising the state’s sales tax by a quarter of a cent for four years, beginning January 1, 2013. Additionally, individuals making at least $250,000 will see a 3% increase in income taxes for seven years, retroactive to the start of 2012. It is projected to raise $6 billion in annual revenue over the next four years. That revenue will drop if the sales tax is not extended to parallel the supplemental income tax hike.
Although touted to benefit education, some revenue from Prop 30 will go towards balancing the budget. For more on Prop 30 taxes and budgeting gimmicks, click here.
FAILED: Proposition 31
Touted by transparency and accountability proponents, Proposition 31 required a three-day review period for new legislation before a vote. Prop. 31 purported to reign in spending by changing the budget cycle from an annual cycle to a biennial cycle and to offset expenditures of more than $25 million. Voters easily defeated the Proposition 60% to 40%.
FAILED: HJRCA 49
HJRCA0049, sponsored by Illinois Representatives Michael Madigan (D), Andre Thapedi (D), and Fred Crespo (D) and Senate Members John Cullerton (D), Iris Martinez (D), and Jeffery Schoenberg (D), proposed an amendment to the Illinois Constitution requiring that no bill, except a bill for appropriations, that provides a benefit increase under any pension or retirement system of the State can become law without the concurrence of 3/5 of the members elected to each house of the General Assembly.
Illinois voters narrowly rejected the constitutional amendment, which needed a 3/5 majority to pass. It is unclear whether the measure would have improved the pension crisis in Illinois, which is mounting.
The Illinois Constitutional provision regarding pensions is short, but its purpose is abundantly clear. Article XIII, Sec. 5, Pension and Retirement Rights, states, “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” [Emphasis added].
As the title of the provision demonstrates, the drafters of the Illinois Constitution intended this provision to convey a right, rather than simply a benefit. One interpretation is that the drafters intended to liken the receipt of pension benefits to those rights guaranteed in the Illinois Bill of Rights, which includes well-known rights such as religious freedom and due process and equal protection.
Of additional importance is the language stating that receiving pension and retirement rights is an enforceable contractual right. This language indicates that the right to sue alleging a violation of this right is on the table. The extent of that ability is somewhat arguable, but including that type of language again demonstrates the importance of the provision, that the drafters truly intended to make access to pension funding a reliable promise. Illinois is currently approximately $271 billion in debt.
PASSED: Amendment 64
Amendment 64 will allow adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, although using the drug in public is still illegal. The amendment also allows the growth of up to six marijuana plants in a private residence. Colorado plans to put an excise tax on marijuana products, expected to generate approximately $46 million in new revenue and reduce law enforcement spending by $16 million. Revenues from the tax will benefit local school districts.
But don’t start smoking just yet. Before Colorado can implement the law, the federal government must take steps to amend Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency regulations, which could take months. Despite its passage, it is still possible for the Obama 2012 Administration to interfere with the law, enough to prevent implementation.
The $46 million influx and $16 million savings projections would certainly be welcome, considering Colorado is roughly $78 billion in the hole.
PASSED: Advisory Vote 1
Advisory 1 asks voters their opinion passed this year that eliminates a Business and Occupation tax credit large banks receive for home mortgages. The credit is worth an estimated $170 million to the banks over ten years, although the same bill provided similar tax breaks for data centers, public docks, farm product manufacturers and newspapers, so the net gain to the state is $24 million over 10 years. Legislators voted to put before Washington voters on November 6, 2012 as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment.
The Advisory Vote passed with a 57.93% majority. The yes vote rejects the maintaining of the removal of tax deductions and the consequent tax increase.
Washington is facing $81 billion of debt.
PASSED: Constitutional Amendment P
The South Dakota Budget Balance Amendment explicitly requires the state to have a balanced budget, including proposals. The Amendment also prohibits legislative appropriations from exceeding anticipated revenues and existing available funds. The measure easily passed with a 64.6% to 35.4% vote.
In February 2012, the South Dakota House of Representatives voted 66-3 to approve the measure, followed closely by Senate approval. Legislators voted to put before South Dakota voters on November 6, 2012 as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment.
The South Dakota Constitution states, “Amendments to this Constitution may be proposed by initiative or by a majority vote of all members of each house of the Legislature. An amendment proposed by initiative shall require a petition signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least ten percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the last gubernatorial election. The petition containing the text of the proposed amendment and the names and addresses of its sponsors shall be filed at least one year before the next general election at which the proposed amendment is submitted to the voters.”
A balanced budget requirement is present in 49 states. Even so, nearly every state is facing massive debt, made possible by utilizing budget gimmicks that allow for the appearance of a balanced budget, but are substantively unbalanced. Without more specific requirements, a balanced budget amendment is a very small step towards fiscally responsible budgeting.
Pharmaceutical companies began disclosing the names of their speakers and how much they are paid after a new federal law began requiring all companies to publicly disclose the data. In the meantime, ProPublica compiled the lists into a single database. While the database includes individual practitioner names, it also includes a number of public institutions, including state universities that receive funding from private pharmaceutical companies.
Disclosures of funding to public institutions include, but are not limited to:
|CALIFORNIA||University of California San Francisco||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
|FLORIDA||University of Miami||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
|TEXAS||University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
|IOWA||University of Iowa||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
|NEW YORK||University of Rochester||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
|ILLINOIS||University of Chicago||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
|WASHINGTON||University of Washington||2010 Q1-Q4||Cash, Pfizer sponsored research||
For additional information relating to payments made to individual speakers, practitioners, and pharmacists for difference services (as opposed to research above), see the searchable database on the ProPublica website