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Stimulus Report: Illinois' Site Ranks Dead Last

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CHICAGO (AP) -- On a scale of zero to 100, it can't get worse than the big goose egg.

That's the embarrassing rating Illinois received in a report released on Wednesday that concludes the state is worst in the nation when it comes to information available online about how federal stimulus money is being spent.

The 50-state study by the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog Good Jobs First sought to assess how well states are living up to President Barack Obama's pledge that the $787 billion federal stimulus bill would seek "an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability."

To fulfill that and similar promises from governors, state Web sites were supposed to play a central role as one-stop shops where watchdogs, reporters and citizens could go to track stimulus cash.

While Illinois' official stimulus site garnered a zero, most states also scored poorly - with an average rating of just 28.

Maryland, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania are the only states to score 50 or higher. Maryland's 80 was by far the highest, with Colorado coming in a distant second with 68.

Other states that ranked at the bottom included Alabama, Kentucky and Vermont.

Researchers tried to determine, based on a point system, just how comprehensive and user-friendly the sites are. That included looking at how much information state sites contained about the amount of federal money spent in each place, and found that Illinois' site had no such detail, according to the report.

"It's shocking," said Brian Imus, the director of Illinois PIRG. "Not providing basic information in how stimulus dollars are spent undermines the public's confidence that the money is being spent well."

He said a state so tainted by political corruption - as in when prosecutors accused former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of scheming to sell a U.S. Senate seat - should strive to be more transparent than any other state.

Ashley Cross, a spokeswoman for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, said the site is being redesigned and more information will be posted next week.

"I think the Web site provides a good overview of information as it's been available," Cross said. "We do know that it's taken longer than we would have liked to get other information up. But our priority has always been to make sure the information we're publishing is accurate."

Only 10 state stimulus sites provide names of contractors and dollar amounts of winning contracts, and just three offer any data at all on how individual projects are meeting a main goal of the stimulus plan - creating jobs.

The report recommends that states load the most vital stimulus figures on one main site "rather than requiring an online scavenger hunt across agency web pages," and it encourage site managers to use more graphs and charts.

"The way in which the information is presented helps shape public attitudes toward the stimulus and could play a significant role in debates over future government interventions in the economy," said Philip Mattera, the lead author of the report.

In addition to stimulus sites, the report also assessed states from zero to 100 specifically on how well they are getting information out about stimulus spending on highways. Illinois was the only state to get a zero in both categories.

States did marginally better on highway reporting, with 13 states scoring 50 or higher, and with an overall average of 38. Maryland again topped the highway category, with 75 points; Washington state was second with 73.

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On the Net:

Good Jobs First report: http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/stimulusweb.cfm .

Officials Illinois stimulus site: http://recovery.illinois.gov

-ASSOCIATED PRESS

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