Evaluation of Mississippi state website

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MS.gov is the website for the state of Mississippi.

Website evaluation

Grade2.pngB-
Budget
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Usability P
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Elected Officials
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Administrative Officials
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Ethics
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Audits
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Contracts
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Lobbying P
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Public records P
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Taxes
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State agency websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process


This website was reviewed on January 20, 2012.

The good

  • Elected and administrative officials are listed with contact information.[1]
  • Administrative officials are listed with contact information.[1]
  • Bid opportunities are posted.[2]
  • The state has a transparency site, which contains contract information.[3]
  • Audits are posted.[4]
  • Tax information is available.[5]
  • Budgets are posted (use the drop-down menu under "Appropriation Information").[6]
  • Ethics information is posted.[7]
  • Lobbyists are listed, but not for the current year.[8]
  • Some information is available on the Mississippi Public Records Act, but contacts and forms are not provided for all departments.[9]

The bad

  • Certain documents are difficult to find, such as the adopted budget, and the search function does not produce the most relevant results first.
  • No information is available on Taxpayer-funded lobbying.
  • Some agencies provide forms for making public records requests, but no comprehensive information is available.

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website a "B-" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 80 out of 100.[10]

The scorecard that U.S. PIRG uses has 13 items and focuses on a separate state website that is searchable at the checkbook level. Sunshine Review, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of separate spending-related items; they do not need to be in a central database.

Item Possible points Notes
Checkbook-level website 30 Detailed expenditure information, including individual payments made to vendors.
Search by vendor 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by contractor or vendor name.
Search by keyword of activity 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by type of service or item purchased, category, or government fund.
Search by agency or departments 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by branch of government.
Contract or summary information 10 A copy of the contract or detailed summary information is included for the expenditures.
Historical expenditures 5 Checkbook-level expenditure data from previous fiscal years.
Grants and economic development incentives information 10 Awardee-specific grants and/or economic development incentives are included in the checkbook tool or elsewhere with specific award amounts.
Downloadable 3 Information can be downloaded for data analysis.
Tax expenditure reports 10 The state's tax expenditure report is linked on the website.
Off-budget agencies 2 Expenditures from quasi-public agencies are included on the website.
City and county budgets 2 Financial information for some local governments is accessible.
ARRA Funding 2 A link is provided to the state's website that tracks funding related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Feedback 2 Website users are capable and encouraged to give feedback about the site.

There are several similarities between the checklists. For both checklists, the searchability of information factors in to how usability is rated. Both checklists have an item relating to contracts, tax information, and the budget. The U.S. PIRG requires information for quasi public entities; Sunshine Review requires information on lobbying, which includes quasi public entities' lobbying activity.

Unlike the Sunshine Review checklist with each check worth one point, different items on the U.S. PIRG checklist merit more or fewer points, depending on the item.

State Integrity Investigation

The 2012 State Integrity Investigation graded state ethics laws according to an "Integrity Index." The index was created by researching 330 "Integrity Indicators" across 14 categories of state government. The report assigned grades based on what laws are on the books, and whether or not they were effectively enforced. The report was a project of The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.[11]

Mississippi received an overall grade of C+, or 79%. It ranked 6 out of the 50 states.[12]

Category Grade
Public Access to Information D+
Political Financing F
Executive Accountability D+
Legislative Accountability C+
Judicial Accountability C-
State Budget Processes B+
State Civil Service Management D
Procurement B-
Internal Auditing A
Lobbying Disclosure B
State Pension Fund Management C-
Ethics Enforcement Agencies C+
State Insurance Commissions A
Redistricting A

Transparency Legislation

Other transparency resources

The Mississippi Center for Public Policy's SeeTheSpending.org website has recently added spending data for counties in the state. Over 5.75 million records are searchable by vendor, spending category, department and fund. Vendors can also be searched across all counties. The website gives Mississippi taxpayers an unbiased look at raw spending and revenue data, provided directly by official government sources. Data is presented “as is” and has not been manipulated, altered, or modified. It's a terrific tool to analyze, compare and share government spending data in the state.

In addition to newly added county spending records, SeeTheSpending.org provides information on state spending, historical budgets, legislative videos, and more.

Resources

Resource Run by Includes Year URL
Recovery State Tracks federal stimulus funds 2011 http://stimulus.ms.gov/msgo/mssr.nsf
Department of Finance and Administration State Budget info 2011 http://www.dfa.state.ms.us/index.htm
Secretary of State State PACs, lobbyists, and campaign finance 2011 http://www.sos.ms.gov/
Follow the Money National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=MS

Salaries

State and Local Employees

According to 2008 Census data, the state of Mississippi and local governments in the state employed a total of 218,186 people.[13] Of those employees, 178,394 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $536,981,084 per month and 39,792 were part-time employees paid $33,298,846 per month.[13] More than 55% of those employees, or 121,621 employees, were in education or higher education.[13]

State Employee Benefits

Insurance

Health State employees may choose between two health insurance plans, a base high deductible plan and a select plan. The base high deductible plan has no premium, while the select plan with a lower deductible does have a premium associated with it.[14]

Dental Optional dental insurance is offered to employees after one month of service.[15]

Life Group term life insurance available to employees covers 200% of the employee's basic annual earnings rounded to the next higher $1,000 and provides minimum coverage of $30,000 and maximum coverage of $100,000.[16] Employees pay 30 cents per thousand dollars of annual salary.[17]

Accidental Death & Dismemberment coverage is available and also covers 200% of the employee's basic annual earnings rounded to the next higher $1,000.[16]

Personal Leave Employees earn 18 days per year earned at the rate of 1½ days per month and are eligible to use after one month of service.[18]

Medical Leave Employees earn 12 days per year at the rate of 1 day per month.[18]

Holidays State employees receive the following 10 paid holidays each year:[19]

  • New Year's Day
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee's Birthdays
  • Washington's Birthday
  • Confederate Memorial Day
  • Memorial Day / Jefferson Davis' Birthday
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Veteran's Day
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Christmas Day

Other

Will Preparation and Legal Services - Phone access to a national network of accredited attorneys for consultation on simple wills, estate planning documents, and other legal issues.[20]

Travel Assistance– Available 24/7 when traveling more than 100 miles from home for business or pleasure. Includes assistance to locate and access physicians, dentists, medical facilities, and pharmacies; arrange and pay for a medical evacuation or return of mortal remains; and provides interpreters.[21]

Beneficiary Financial Counseling – Beneficiaries who receive at least $25,000 in policy benefits may use an independent beneficiary counseling service through Pricewaterhouse Coopers. They offer advice and counsel with the beneficiary's written consent.[16]

Pensions

State employees participated in the Mississippi Public Employees Retirement System.

The funding of the state pension system has steadily declined. In 1998, the Mississippi Public Employee Retirement System was about 85% funded, with a plan for full funding in approximately 10 years.[22] In 2008, however, the funding level dropped to about 73%, with full funding now almost 30 years away.[22] The required contribution rose from $362 million in 2000 to nearly $637 million in fiscal year 2008.[22]

A recent study by economists Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business concluded that the Mississippi pension fund will run out of money in 2021.[23]

Contribution Rates

The Mississippi legislature increased the pension contribution of state workers from 7.25% of monthly earned compensation from 7.25% to 9%, effective July 1, 2010.[24] The employee contribution will revert to 7.25% in July 2012 unless legislators address the issue.[25]

Double Dipping

Chapter 546, Laws of 2010 (HB 957), provides that no one who is being paid a retirement allowance or a pension after retirement can be employed or paid for any service by the State of Mississippi, including services as an employee, contract worker, contractual employee or independent contractor, until the retired person has been retired for 90 consecutive days from the effective date of retirement. Thereafter the person may be reemployed while being paid a retirement allowance. Employers are to make the full employer contribution for the person who is re-employed. People who return to covered employment while receiving a retirement benefit are not eligible to earn additional service credit while so employed.[26]

Funding Levels

The state's pension liabilities can be calculated in a variety of ways, which yield different numbers. Below are the numbers as calculated by to the Pew Center on the States[27], the American Enterprise Institute[28] and Professors Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Chicago and Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University, Kellogg Graduate School of Management.[29]

In Thousands
PEW (2008) AEI (2008) Kellogg (2009)
$7,971,277 $32,225,716 $28,700,000

Other information from the Pew Center on the States Feb. 2010 publication "The Trillion Dollar Gap":

State Pension Funding Levels 2008 (figures are in thousands)[22]
Latest liability Latest unfunded liability Annual required contribution Latest actual contribution
$29,311,471 $ 7,971,277 $662,900 $643,356
State Retiree Healthcare and Other Non-Pension Benefits Funding 2008 (figures are in thousands)[22]
Latest liability Latest unfunded liability Annual required contribution Latest actual contribution
$570,248 $570,248 $43,627 $0
Underfundedf pension liabilities
Number of pension plans Pension assets ($bn) Stated liabilities ($bn) Funding status (% of tax revenue)
3 $15.1 $29.3 -575%

This data is based on projected data from 2008 census data.[30] In 2008, $1.94 trillion was set aside for pensions, but it is estimated that states have $5.17 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Rate of Return

Mississippi presumes a 8.00% return rate on its pension investments.[22]

Public Records

The Mississippi Public Records Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: Mississippi FOIA procedures.

External links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 MS.gov "Elected Officials," accessed January 20, 2012
  2. MS.gov "Bids and RFPs," accessed January 20, 2012
  3. MS.gov "Transparency Mississippi," accessed January 20, 2012
  4. MS.gov "Audit Reports," accessed January 20, 2012
  5. MS.gov "Department of Revenue," accessed January 20, 2012
  6. MS.gov "Office off Budget and Fund Management," accessed January 20, 2012
  7. MS.gov "Ethics," accessed January 20, 2012
  8. MS.gov "Lobbyist Search," accessed January 20, 2012
  9. MS.gov "Public Records Act," accessed January 20, 2012
  10. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  11. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  12. Mississippi Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 2008 Mississippi Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  14. [1]
  15. Employment
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Plan Overview
  17. Employment
  18. 18.0 18.1 Employment
  19. State Holidays
  20. Legal Services
  21. Travel Assistance
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 Pew Center on the States "The Trillion Dollar Gap" Feb. 2010
  23. New Mexico, Study: NM state pension plan will run out of money in 13 years, Sept. 9, 2010
  24. "State Workers, Long Resistant, Accept Cuts in Pension Benefits" June 29, 2010
  25. The Associated Press "A look at state pension changes" Sept. 15, 2010
  26. National Conference of State Legislators "Pensions and Retirement Plan Enactments in 2010 State Legislatures" July 19, 2010
  27. "State Pensions and Retiree Healthcare Benefits: The Trillion Dollar Gap,” Pew Center on the States, accessed January 4, 2011
  28. Biggs, Andrew, “The Market Value of Public-Sector Pension Deficits,” AEI Outlook Series, no. 1 (2010)
  29. Novy-Marx, Robert and Joshua Rauh, 2010, "Public Pension Promises: How Big Are They and What Are They Worth," Journal of Finance (forthcoming)
  30. Northwestern University, The Liabilities and Risks of State-Sponsored Pension Plans, May 2010