As an ethics speaker, I have the opportunity to travel the country and meet citizens of all the states in our great nation. Amazing what you can find when you just take the time to ask questions. People are in many cases better connected than our leaders might think.
When it comes to Texas, as a recent resident of that great state, I can say that, overall, there is a feeling of positive prosperity. Texans expect government to be responsive to them and, for the most part, it seems that it is working.
The report just issued came from the Better Government Assoication. Founded in 1923, the Better Government Association is an independent, non-partisan government watchdog. Their mission is to combat waste, fraud, and corruption in government by conducting investigative research and litigation to expose problems; researching policy solutions promoting transparency and accountability in government; and using internship programs to train the next generation of investigators and public interest lawyers.
Texas ranked 7th among all fifty states overall. By issue area Texas ranked 17th in open records laws; 4th in whistleblower laws; 36th in campaign finance laws; 22nd in open meetings laws; and 3rd in conflict of interest laws. Despite its number 7 overall ranking, Texas achieved a modest 60% overall score.
“Texas should be congratulated that it beat out forty-three other states” said Stewart, “however, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. If you look at the percentage score, Texas received 60%, the equivalent of a D letter grade, hardly a cause for celebration.”
The 2nd edition of the BGA-Alper Integrity Index relies on data compiled through 2007. Most of the data was collected by the BGA and the BGA created the scoring system for four of the five laws. The BGA relied on the work of the Center for Public Integrity in regard to conflict of interest laws.
Generally the BGA reviewed the relevant laws in all fifty states and created a scoring system for each law that ran on a 0 to 2 scale with half point increments or a 0 to 4 scale on whole point increments. The better the law the higher the score. For the BGA better was usually defined as lower limits, more transparency and higher penalties. The BGA scored areas of each type of law that were common across all fifty states.
The BGA-Alper Integrity Index is the only tool that attempts to measure the performance of all fifty states across a number of good government laws. As with any analytical tool, it can’t measure every variable that impact on government integrity. However, laws are generally the reference point against which ethical behavior is measured. By rating the quality of the laws we reviewed it at least gives an indication of how important ethics are to each state.
“We hope that legislators and leaders in Texas will use the Integrity Index as a tool to spur reform and upgrade their laws in regard to transparency, accountability and limits. Better yet, we hope Texas comes up with a tough new standard that then becomes the measure against which other states will be judged” said Stewart.
7th out of 50 isn’t bad, but a “D” rating gives pause to reflect. Obviously, there is substantial room for improvement in the realm of governmental ethics.
A full copy of the BGA-Alper Integrity Index is available for free on the BGA’s website at http://www.bettergov.org/.