Transparent & Accountable Budgets

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

Report | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Picking Up the Tab 2013

Tax haven abuse costs the United States approximately $150 billion in tax revenues every year. Even when tax haven abusers act perfectly legally, they force other Americans to shoulder their tax burden. The average U.S. tax filer would need to pay $1,026 in additional taxes to make up for lost revenue from tax havens. To pick up the tab for the taxes avoided by multinational corporations, the average small business in the United States would need to pay an average of $3,067 each in additional taxes.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax

Following the Money 2013

Every year, state governments spend tens of billions of dollars through contracts with private entities for goods and services, subsidies to encourage economic development, grants, and other forms of spending. Accountability and public scrutiny are necessary to ensure that state funds are well spent.

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

BP Trial Decision May Hinge on Tax Deductibility

The high-stakes negotiations between BP and the Justice Department may depend on how determined the Department is to protect taxpayers from subsidizing a settlement. In the past, agencies have allowed companies to write off legal settlements over wrongdoing as a tax deduction. Doing so forces taxpayers to ultimately foot the bill for these deductions. Every dollar these companies avoid paying gets made up through cuts to public programs, higher national debt, or increases to other taxes.

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

Closing Tax Loopholes Won't Drive Companies Overseas

With Washington gearing up for additional high-stakes budget battles over the next few months, Congress has continued to ignore a solution worth about $90 billion annually: closing loopholes that allow corporations to avoid taxes by pretending their profits are earned in offshore tax havens. Corporate lobbyists often claim that closing these loopholes would drive companies to flee the U.S. and re-register themselves in low-tax countries. U.S. PIRG’s new analysis explains why this is not the case.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax

Who's Afraid of Inversion?

Manipulating corporate structure to appear like a foreign company for tax purposes is called “inversion.” It sounds like an easy option for companies to reap the benefits of conducting business in America while paying next to nothing in taxes. But these days the threat of inversion is mostly bluster. Congress can better shore up our tax code by shutting down loopholes that allow profit shifting without being held hostage to the empty threat that companies will simply exempt themselves from U.S. laws by inverting their place of registration.

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

New Bill Will Stop Companies from Stashing Profits in Tax Havens, Raise $600 Billion in Tax Revenue

Ordinary taxpayers foot the bill for this corporate tax dodging in the form of cuts to public programs, more debt, or higher taxes. This legislation tackles the heart of the problem by ending incentives to shift profits offshore.

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

New Maine Spending Transparency Website Announced in Governor’s Speech

The state of Maine launches a new spending transparency website with many strong features and some significant shortcomings.

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

New Study: Offshore Tax Dodging Blows $40 Billion Hole in State Budgets

With states across the country facing dire fiscal crunches and lawmakers in Washington gearing up for more budget showdowns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund released a new study revealing that state budgets were hit collectively with $40 billion in lost revenue from offshore tax dodging last year.

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Media Hit | Budget, Tax

New York Times: Paying the Price, But Often Deducting It

[T]here’s more than meets the eye to the big legal settlements you’ve been reading about involving some of the nation’s biggest banks. Actually, there’s less than meets the eye. The dollar signs are big, but they aren’t as big as they look, at least for the banks. That’s because some or all of these payments will probably be tax-deductible. The banks can claim them as business expenses. Taxpayers, therefore, will likely lighten the banks’ loads.

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

Do New Mortgage Settlements Contain a Hidden $7 Billion Tax Subsidy for Banks?

Unless federal agencies prevent it, the banks in yesterday's settlement announcements will likely write off the penalties on their taxes, effectively forcing ordinary taxpayer to provide $7 billion in tax subsidies for their wrongdoing.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Budget

Transparency.gov 2.0

The ability to see how government uses the pub­lic purse is fundamental to democracy. Budget transparency checks corruption, bolsters public confidence in government, and promotes fiscal responsibility. Massachusetts, consistently ranked as a top state for technology industries, should be a natural leader of the Transparency 2.0 movement. But as more and more states upgrade their trans­parency systems, Massachusetts has fallen be­hind the emerging set of best practices.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget

Forgiving Fraud And Failure

Companies with immediate past histories of shoddy work and fraudulent practices are being rewarded with billions of dollars in federal contracts. The data suggest that the process by which the federal government currently spends $422 billion per year in taxpayer funds is insufficient to ensure that the American people receive good quality for goods and services purchased for the American people.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Budget

Forgiving Fraud And Failure

Companies with immediate past histories of shoddy work and fraudulent practices are being rewarded with billions of dollars in federal contracts. The data suggest that the process by which the federal government currently spends $422 billion per year in taxpayer funds is insufficient to ensure that the American people receive good quality for goods and services purchased for the American people.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Road Privatization

Privatization of toll roads is a growing trend. During 2007, sixteen states had some privatized road project formally proposed or underway. Although offering a short-term infusion of cash, privatization of existing toll roads harms the long-term public interest. It relinquishes important public control over transportation policy while failing to deliver the value comparable to the tolls that the public will be forced to pay over the life of the deal.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Finding Solutions to Fund Transit

The public need and demand for transit will grow sharply in the future and transportation funding must become better targeted to future needs. This paper explains why lawmakers should turn to new dedicated revenues to provide long-term solutions while increasing market efficiency and reducing social costs. Legislators should avoid short-term band aids from the general budget or one-time gimmicks such as road privatization.

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