We note with interest the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s conclusion that Alaska should receive an F grade for openness and transparency of government information.
That finding was included in the group’s latest “Following the Money” report that ranked state efforts to show citizens how their money is being spent. While other states have been boosting public access to information about what government is doing, the Alaska Public Research Group says, Alaska is lagging.
The state’s public records law – depending on your perspective – is either one of the best in the nation or a joke. Our experience has tilted toward the latter.
One need only look at the heavily redacted information released upon request, often long after the 10-day deadline in the law. There are exemptions and exceptions and excuses, but there is little impetus for the state to actually cough up information requested by the public in a timely fashion.
If you will recall under then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the wait stretched into years, with some requests carrying with them multimillion-dollar copying bills. The redactions were carried out by the very people who worked for her, people unqualified to make such decisions.
Alaska’s public records law certain needs a rewrite with an eye toward actually making information available, not protecting public officials and agencies. It also would help if the government labyrinth were easier to navigate.
With the state making hard decisions on spending as it faces a $3.5 billion deficit, the public deserves more access, not less, to see how those decisions are made and how money is spent and how taxes and credits and exemptions are levied. Expenditures linked to taxes, for instance, are not even released to the public in Alaska.
The report found California was the worst state for transparency because “bureaucratic fragmentation” makes it harder to find information. The best states were Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, Louisiana and Connecticut.
It would be nice in a year or two to have Alaska at the top of that list.