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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida earns 'D-' grade for government integrity



Across the board, the picture of state government accountability across the country is pretty bleak.

And the verdict for Florida in a new report Monday: Decidedly meh.

Reporters and researchers at the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity found that the Sunshine State misses the mark on accountability for bureaucrats, oversight of elections and openness in its state budget process.

The yearlong study gave Florida a D- overall across 13 categories. It ranks the state 30th in the nation on integrity. Hey, it could be worse: 11 states flunked, including Michigan, which ranks dead last.

The rankings come from research into everything from government accountability to ethics and funding elections. The Center hired 50 freelance journalists to do the research based on state laws and interviews with public officials, lobbyists and journalists. (Full disclosure: Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald was interviewed earlier this year for the report.)

Florida ranks at or near the bottom of the country in two major areas: the state budget process and managing state workers.

In particular, Florida’s state bureaucrats aren’t held to the same ethical standards as those in some states, and they don’t have protection if they report corruption.

The state budget is largely written behind closed doors every year. As proof, look no further than the roughly $300 million dropped into the current year’s budget at the 11th hour in a near-midnight meeting this summer.

Still, there are bright spots in the report: Lawmakers are better held accountable here than any state but Alaska. And high marks for audits of state agencies are dampened only by the format they’re published in.

This range — from critical reports on some topics to high praise on others — is the takeaway from the report, says William Gray of the Center for Public Integrity. No state earned higher than a C from the center.

“Some states are doing things in some areas that maybe other states want to look at,” he said.

And hopefully, Gray said, the attention paid to open-government reforms in some places will lead to change in others.

“We think there are best practices seen across the states,” he said.

[Last modified: Monday, November 9, 2015 4:39pm]


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