Government Transparency

U.S. PIRG believes that budgeting should be open, accountable, and follow long-term planning. Public money should be spent for the most effective pursuit of clear public benefits or to encourage beneficial behaviors undervalued by the market. 

Through Transparency, Shaping A Government Accountable to the People

How government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.

Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.

It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held to task for their actions. 

Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. U.S. PIRG is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts: 

  • Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies.
     
  • Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars.
     
  • Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Budget, Tax, Transportation

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea | Jaimie Woo

A little more than a year ago, I highlighted the absurdity of using a corporate tax holiday to fund infrastructure. Here's a quick refresher: Currently, large wealthy corporations avoid taxes by making it look as though their U.S. profits are generated offshore - costing Americans $90 billion each year in tax revenue.

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News Release | US PIRG | Budget

U.S.PIRG advises for stronger standards to track state and local economic subsidies

The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) called for public comment on proposed rules for reporting on tax abatements that could require states and localities to achieve new levels of checkbook level transparency around economic development programs. Across the U.S. these programs represent tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, often granted with little transparency or accountability for results. In our comment letter to GASB, US PIRG made a few suggestions for amendments that would further strengthen the proposed GASB standards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax, Transportation

Obama Budget Closes Tax Loopholes, Cuts Wasteful Spending, but Falls Short of Ending Offshore Tax Dodging

"President Obama’s budget deserves praise for closing egregious offshore tax loopholes and preventing companies with enough lawyers from using tax havens to get their tax bill down to zero. Unfortunately it fails to end the incentive for wealthy multinationals to take advantage of tax havens, and would fall short of putting an end to offshore tax dodging.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget

Statement on the President's State of the Union Address

The State of the Union address is the President's opportunity to articulate his priorities.  In a time of divided government, action on many of the President's priorities will require an agreement with Congress.  However, it is notable the range of issues raised by the President where he and his Administration can take action independent of Congress. We list our U.S. PIRG position on key highlights:

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Blog Post | Budget, Tax

New year, fresh start: Congress’s Do’s and Don’ts | Jaimie Woo

Another year has come and gone, and 2015 presents an opportunity to start fresh. With that in mind, it’s time for the newly minted 114th Congress to make the right choices for the public’s interest in its New Year’s resolutions, and making the tax code fairer is a good place to start. 

“Tax reform.” Perhaps you hear these words and your eyes gloss over. It’s long been talked about, but hardly any progress made on the issue in nearly 30 years. However, both the president and Republican Congressional leaders have said they’re willing to make headway by reforming the corporate tax code. Here is a short list of Do’s and Don’ts that puts the public interest first and should form the basis of any agreement:

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Offshore Loophole Got Snuck Back in Tax Extenders Bill Behind Closed Doors

After Chairman Wyden took the bold step of striking an egregious offshore tax loophole from his proposed tax extenders bill, it found its way back in with no public debate. The Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) Look Through Rule lets multinational giants avoid U.S. taxes by booking profits to shell companies in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Nixing this loophole would have saved taxpayers over $2 billion over the course of the next two years. We’re encouraged that an amendment to strike this loophole has been filed by Senator Brown (D-OH), and we hope the committee will do right by taxpayers and strike it once again. Close scrutiny reveals that the CFC look through rule serves only one purpose: letting a handful of giant multinationals use sham subsidiaries in tax havens to shirk their tax responsibilities.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Bipartisan Legislators Come Together To Expose "Wrongdoing Write Offs"

Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress have introduced bills that would require agencies to disclose when their settlements with corporations allow tax write offs for payments made to resolve charges of wrongdoing.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Camp Corporate Tax Proposal Would Make Offshore Tax Dodging Easy for Large Multinationals

At a time when multinational giants are shifting profits offshore at an alarming rate to avoid billions in taxes, Chairman Camp’s bill would make our loophole-ridden corporate tax code even worse. Congress should take aggressive measures to crack down on tax haven abuse – like those put forth by Senator Levin in the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act – instead of expanding the loopholes.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Drug Company’s $193M Settlement for Misconduct May Become Big Tax Write-Off

A new factsheet from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group documents how health care and pharmaceutical corporations are able to write off the payments they make to settle charges of wrongdoing, such as fraud, on their taxes.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

New Factsheet Outlines How Corporations Get Tax Write-Offs for Consumer Harm

A new factsheet from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group documents how corporations that have been charged with harming consumers through mortgage violations, price-fixing, racial discrimination and other charges have typically been able to write off the cost of their misdeeds on their taxes.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget

Caution: Red Light Cameras Ahead

Privatized traffic law enforcement systems are spreading rapidly across the United States. As many as 700 local jurisdictions have entered into deals with for-profit companies to install camera systems at intersections and along roadways to encourage drivers to obey traffic signals and follow speed limits. Local contracting for automated traffic enforcement systems may sometimes be a useful tool for keeping drivers and pedestrians safe. But when private firms and municipalities consider revenues first, and safety second, the public interest is threatened.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget

Tax-Increment Financing

Tax-increment financing (TIF) has been a widely used tool for municipalities seeking private investment. TIF allows cities and towns to borrow against an area’s future tax revenues in order to invest in immediate projects or encourage present development. When used properly, TIF can promote enduring growth and stronger communities for blighted neighborhoods; but TIF can also end up wasting taxpayer resources or channeling money to politically favored special interests.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Budget

Toward Common Ground

To break through the ideological divide that has dominated Washington this past year and offer a pathway to address the nation’s fiscal problems, the National Taxpayers Union and U.S. PIRG joined together to identify mutually acceptable deficit reduction measures.

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Report | Illinois PIRG | Budget, Tax

Shining a Light on Tax Increment Financing in Chicago

This report gives an initial snapshot of how well the Mayor’s office is doing in introducing transparency to tax increment financing (TIF) by examining how well critical information has been made available on the TIF transparency website. Specifically, we looked at whether or not the City of Chicago is complying with the “TIF Sunshine Ordinance,” which was passed in April of 2009.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget

Following the Money 2011

This report is our second annual ranking of states’ progress toward “Transparency 2.0” – a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility.

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