It’s no longer just Republican governors who openly oppose the federal stimulus law who have stripped or shut down their states’ Recovery Act websites. As of July 1, the stimulus website in California, the biggest of the blue states, is no more.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising that California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has decided to get rid of the state website dedicated to tracking Recovery Act funds. Before he even took office, Brown announced in December 2010 that he was eliminating the state’s Office of the Inspector General, which oversaw California’s use of Recovery Act funds. At the time, Brown said that the Office was redundant and unaffordable for a state facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. We can probably assume that the decision to eliminate the state’s stimulus website also comes out of budgetary concerns.
At the web address that used to host the California Recovery Act website, there is now only a message that reads: “As of July 1, 2011 the California Recovery website has been discontinued. Recovery Act data is available on the Federal Recovery website at www.recovery.gov.” But as we’ve argued at Good Jobs First, simply directing residents to the federal Recovery Act site is not enough. Effective state stimulus websites provide more state-specific funding and program details than the federal website.
On the one hand, we recognize that states are facing really tough budget shortfalls and have had to make tough decisions; some worthwhile programs must be cut. But as Collins Center Vice President Leda Perez has pointed out, you can’t put a price tag on the value of transparent and open government. And although many stimulus funds are drying up this year (thereby exacerbating state budget shortfalls), state agencies in California and across the country will continue to oversee large sums of Recovery Act funds through 2013.
Keeping that in mind, the concern here is that states may be prematurely “moving on” from the Recovery Act, and that type of attitude could become increasingly prevalent in the months ahead. In addition to the states we’ve chronicled that have taken down their stimulus websites, there’s also New Hampshire and New Mexico, which recently announced that they are shutting down the state Recovery Act offices that were created to run their websites and more broadly oversee stimulus spending. In announcing that they are closing up shop, the New Hampshire Office of Economic Stimulus added that the state’s stimulus website will only remain active until December 31. We’ll probably soon be hearing about other states that are shutting down Recovery Act offices and websites.
In many ways, the Recovery Act has been a boon to transparency and accountability. States shouldn’t let the ongoing phase-out of stimulus funds tempt them to return to business as usual.