For years, TexPIRG has graded entire states on how clearly they lay out their spending habits. This is first time the group has examined cities for how easy it is for the public to find out where their money goes.
Houston earned a grade of C-plus, putting it roughly in the middle of the pack of 30 major cities. TexPIRG’s Ryan Pierannunzi says Houston deserves credit for making it easy to download spending information on what he calls the “checkbook level.”
“By having checkbook-level spending data, you’re able to see exactly the vendor, the recipient of a certain amount of money. And, usually, that’s also incorporated by information on what was purchased, or what the city got for that transaction.”
Pierannunzi says the websites of many cities do not divulge as much spending detail as Houston does. But he says with a grade of C+, there’s always room for improvement.
“There’s no information available online regarding tax expenditures — spending through the tax code, which could incorporate any sort of tax credits or abatements, funds of that sort.”
Pierannunzi says Houston could improve its score by creating a single website that includes all budget and spending information in one place, searchable by department.
Two other cities in Texas were included in TexPIRG’s spending transparency report. San Antonio earned a B, and Dallas received a D+.
Table ES-1: How America’s 30 Largest Cities Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending and Service Request Data, TexPRIG