States of Transparency: Arizona


The Open Government Directive encouraged states to put valuable government data online. In this series we’re reviewing each state’s efforts in this direction.

This week: Arizona

Arizonans finally got a government spending website in February with, joining 35 other states that offer such data online. Transparency efforts there still have a long way to go, however. USPIRG, in an April report, rated Arizona last among states that have such open government sites.

State Treasurer Dean Martin, who calls AZcheckbook a “labor of love,” says he completed it in his spare time and without funding along with a couple of computer programmers. The site has two main functions: first, it displays the state treasury’s operating balance, updated daily. The accompanying graph neatly depicts the state finances’ steep plunge into the red over the last three years.

The site also reports aggregate revenue and expenditure data. For example, you can see that the largest portion of state sick leave money was spent by the Department of Corrections, with the Department of Transportation coming in second. But you can’t see how much of that sick leave money was spent on cops or bus drivers or administrative employees. You can also see the total amounts that each agency spent within various budget categories each year. (For example, the Department of Environmental Quality has received almost 20 percent of its 2010 budget from licensing and permits, and spent about $126,000 on capital equipment). But you can’t get the details of the individual payments or who they went to. The numbers aren’t real time – they’re updated monthly — and nothing on the site is downloadable or machine-readable.

Martin, who’s currently running against incumbent Jan Brewer in the Republican gubernatorial primary, blames the lack of more granular data on the governor’s office, which houses the state’s accounting system. “We put up every piece of information we have,” he said. A spokesperson for the governor did not returned our calls.

Another transparency effort in Arizona merits attention., run by the state Department of Health Services, provides information on enforcement actions taken against health facilities and providers, including excerpts from the original inspection reports. The site is searchable and includes categories for child care providers, juvenile group homes, and providers like midwives and speech pathologists, in addition to standard categories like nursing homes and hospitals.

Other state agencies would do well to follow the Department of Health Services’ lead. The Department of Environmental Quality, for example, offers no online enforcement and compliance data.