Budget transparency – even for tax credits

By Bruce Mohl

The Massachusetts House voted Wednesday night to create a budget website where taxpayers could track the flow of funds in and out of state government – even money doled out in the form of tax credits. Rep. Charles Murphy, the House’s budget chief, had called for the creation of the website in his fiscal 2011 budget proposal and, along with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, agreed to support the tax credit measure during floor debate. The website initiative passed unanimously and the tax credit measure was approved 130-27.

“We will have virtually instant access to the way we raise and spend money in the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Jay Kaufman of Lexington, who pushed for both proposals.

The proposed website would let users track appropriations and expenditures by agency, including quasi-public authorities. The tax credit language would require agencies that administer certain tax credits, including the film, medical device, and brownfields tax credits, to disclose the identity of recipients, the amount of credits they received, and the date the credits were issued. Currently, that information is not disclosed because state officials view it as private tax data.

The tax credit language is likely to win support from Gov. Deval Patrick, who pushed for a similar initiative in his budget proposal. But the Senate is likely to oppose the measure. Senate President Therese Murray and Sen. Karen Spilka of Framingham oppose identifying tax credit recipients by name because they say it will discourage business investment in Massachusetts.

MassPIRG, the consumer group, said the new website would dramatically increase the transparency of the budget process in Massachusetts. In a recent report, the group gave Massachusetts an “F” for its budget transparency efforts.