VERMONT - Earlier this month, a labor-oriented advocacy group judged the "quantity and quality" of information provided by state government websites. Vermont was found wanting.
The report, issued on November 15 by Washington, D.C.-based Good Jobs First, ranked states for conduct in three categories: "economic development subsidies," "lobbyists and lobbying activity" and "state procurement contracts." Vermont's D-plus rating is above the national average of D-minus and ranks 18th nationwide.
Tom Murray, commissioner of the Department of Information & Innovation, acknowledges the state's shortcomings. "Traditionally, we've been a paper-focused state, and we're rapidly shifting away from that," he says. According to Murray, any concerns over lack of web transparency stem from insufficient resources, rather than a lack of "desire" for reform. Murray hopes to put all government services online in the next three or four years, or "darn close to it."
In contrast to Murray's assurances, two prominent Vermont Progressives suggest the Good Jobs First report is a sign of deeper troubles. On November 15, Vermont Progressive Party Executive Director Morgan Daybell charged on his party's blog that the report was a "reality check" to Governor Jim Douglas' "much-hyped" e-State Initiative. Speaking with Seven Days Monday, Daybell said he's specifically disappointed with the website of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, which administers the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC).
Progressive economic analyst Doug Hoffer lobs a more focused criticism. "VEPC is prohibited by law from providing company-specific information, other than the fact that a company was provided credits and utilized them, period," he notes. "That tells us nothing about how many jobs they promised to create, and how many they did create in the end, and at what wage." Hoffer claims companies such as Wal-Mart have traditionally taken advantage of the state's accountability protocols to reap extra profits.
"I think Mr. Hoffer is confused," counters David Mace, communications director at the Agency of Commerce & Community Development. Mace suggests the state's carefully managed financial reporting procedures are a benefit - at least, to the bottom line. "Certainly, companies have a right to protect proprietary information about their wages and their employment levels," he asserts. "It's difficult to imagine that companies would be eager to apply for an incentive program if it were going to require them to disclose information that would put them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace."