February 1, 2013

Where Does The Money Go?

We all know that corruption is a threat to our government. And, the less transparent a governmental body is, the more likely it is that corruption will occur. Aren’t we all more likely to steal the last cookie if no one can see us doing it?

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) revealed unsettling results for Saint Louis in its report on the largest cities’ spending transparency websites. Saint Louis City received a grade of ‘F’ in spending transparency, and ranked 28th lowest on the list of 30 cities.

Other cities provide valuable “checkbook-level” information online. But Saint Louis fails to provide this information, keeping us in the dark on expenditures. This means we cannot easily track who receives taxpayer dollars.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF), tax credits, exemptions, incentive-based abatements, and other tax subsidies all affect the city’s budget the same way as direct spending. But cities can more easily hide these types of indirect spending.

The Saint Louis Development Corporation (SLDC), which supports the city’s TIF commission, provides almost no TIF information on its website. And, the SLDC fails to provide financial information for the other economic development authorities it supports.

As a result, it is challenging to track the details on Saint Louis tax expenditures. And if we cannot easily track spending details, we have a limited ability to hold recipients accountable for delivering on their promises. Without providing this information online, it is unnecessarily difficult to scrutinize the city’s decisions and to determine whether our tax money is being spent wisely.

No one could argue that this is a good thing — yet we see no attempts from Saint Louis City to provide more transparency.

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