News Release

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Danny Katz,
CoPIRG

Denver Receives a Grade of “B” for Spending Transparency

New CoPIRG Report Compares Denver to Other Major Cities Across America
For Immediate Release

Denver – Denver received a grade of “B” for spending transparency, according to a new report released today by CoPIRG. The report reviews Denver’s progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

“Denver performs better than most other major U.S. cities.  Its current transparency features form a good foundation on which to build.” said Danny Katz, Director for CoPIRG.

The report, “Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America’s Largest Cities,” reviews and grades the nation’s thirty largest cities on how effectively they allow the public to track budgets, contracting, subsidies, grants and requests for quality-of-life services.

Denver earned the grade of “B” because they offer features such as the city’s provision of searchable checkbook-level city spending information, which gives citizens a view into where money gets spent, easy access to comprehensive budget and financial reports and the city’s development of a central transparency website. 

However, there is room for improvement; for example, Denver should make its checkbook-level spending information downloadable for data analysis and should list the tax subsidies the city hands out to specific companies in the forms of tax credits, exemptions, deductions and abatements.

The report found that 17 of America’s 30 most populous cities provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail. Three cities received “A” grades and lead the pack in delivering easy-to-access, encompassing information on government spending: New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Five cities received failing grades, indicating that they offer little or no spending data online: Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Sacramento, and Cleveland. Kansas City received a “C” and Phoenix received a “D”.

“The ability to see how government spends its funds is fundamental to democracy. Transparency in government spending checks corruption, bolsters public confidence, improves responsiveness, and promotes greater effectiveness and fiscal responsibility,” said Katz. “Denver is clearly taking this seriously and that attitude will pay off for their residents.”

“Denver is very proud of its award winning annual financial reports, its easily accessible citizen reports, and its ongoing efforts to make it easy for citizens to access and explore how their city spends taxpayer money,” said Deputy Mayor and CFO Cary Kennedy.  “We certainly appreciate the work of CoPIRG as it aligns well with Mayor Hancock’s vision for world-class accountability and accessibility for the citizens of Denver.”

The report makes a series of recommendations for cities to follow in order to achieve spending transparency, most of which Denver does, including:
•    Cities should provide online databases of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail.
•    Checkbook-level data should be searchable and downloadable.
•    Cities should provide web visitors with copies of contracts between vendors and the city.
•    Cities should disclose the tax subsidies awarded to individual companies and recipients.
•    Cities should maintain a central transparency portal for all city spending tools and documents.
•    Cities should allow residents to view service requests submitted by other residents and the city’s responses to those requests.

“City spending has a profound impact on residents’ lives through basic government functions such as policing, sanitation and public health.  Spending transparency can help Denver residents hold their elected leaders accountable and ensure that tax dollars are well spent,” added Katz.

The new study extends CoPIRG’s annual reporting on state government transparency, which since 2010 has compared Colorado’s spending transparency to the other 49 states in its 2012 Following the Money report.

The “Transparency in City Spending” report can be downloaded at www.copirg.org.

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