If there is one thing most Americans can agree on, it is that the quality of their government is bad and getting worse — except maybe it isn’t, at least at the state level. Statehouses have acted decisively on budgetary discipline while Washington dithers, shrinking aggregate deficits from $191 billion in the 2010 fiscal year to a projected $47 billion for FY 2013, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

States are also in the midst of a governance and transparency revolution. That is the upshot of an annual survey on online access to public spending released last week by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). All but four of the 50 statehouses now offer easily navigable web sites where concerned citizens can monitor outlays down to the ‘check-book level,’ up from 32 in 2010, the D.C.-based watchdog found. “We were impressed to see the progress over the past few years,” says Phineas Baxandall, the USPIRG analyst who ran the project.

The relative rankings of the states, which U.S. PIRG graded pedantically at A through F, also turned out to be encouragingly unpredictable. Republican and Democratic administrations were equally likely to be stars or dropouts. States with backwater reputations like Kentucky and West Virginia were among the A students, while supposed bastions of advancement like Wisconsin and Vermont both earned D-minuses. Texas was valedictorian with a grade of 98, though more thanks to independently elected comptroller Susan Combs than its famous governor Rick Perry, Baxandall says.

How relevant are these findings on transparency to bond investors? A bit, market pros say. Governance accounts for fully 30 percent of a state’s credit rating, says Emily Raimes, an analyst with Moody’s. But the agency looks at top-down best practices such as whether budgets and audits are delivered on time, as well as “initiatives and referendums that might interfere with the budgeting process.” (Take that, California.) “Transparency is not a part of governance that impacts ratings,” she says. Indeed, U.S. PIRG’s idea of virtue does not correlate with that of the ratings agencies. Iowa, which failed U.S. PIRG’s transparency test altogether, gets an AAA credit rating from Moody’s, while public access avatars such as Kentucky and Louisiana receive much weaker Aa2s.