Ohio, W.V. get good marks, but improvement is needed

It is good news indeed that Ohio and West Virginia ranked highest in the nation for government transparency, in an examination by a public interest group.

But as educators so often remind us, it is unrealistic to gauge any sort of success by just one test. In this case, residents of both the Buckeye and Mountain states should understand that real transparency is limited and under constant attack.

These two states scored the highest in a United States Public Interest Research Group evaluation of websites detailing government spending. West Virginia and Ohio were the only two states to receive A-plus grades from the USPIRG.

As we have noted previously, officials in both states deserve credit for developing transparency websites. Ohio’s online reporting site is at www.ohiotreasurer.gov/Transparency. West Virginia’s can be found at www.transparencywv.org.

Though we wish more local entities — municipalities, counties and boards of education — would participate in the online reporting, credit must be given to Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel and West Virginia Auditor John McCuskey for pursuing their projects.

But — and this is a very big “but” — online transparency is just part of the challenge.

Online financial reports are viewed relatively rarely, usually only by people looking for something specific. And they do not provide full disclosure on spending.

While we have made progress online, local and state officials too often limit the information people can get via legal advertising. There are literally hundreds of exemptions to legal ad requirements, with more added every year.

Requirements for legal ads, the effective method of transparency, are full of holes in both our states. Legislators need to hear from their constituents that full disclosure on how our money is spent is not just desirable, but is, in fact, imperative.

So yes, give our states gold stars for online transparency — but recognize that in an even more important measure of accountability, both West Virginia and Ohio need work.