Category Archives: State & Local Finance

An Introduction to Police and Fire Pensions

Source: Jean-Pierre Aubry and Kevin Wandrei, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, SLP#69, February 2020

The brief’s key findings are:

  • Pension and retiree health benefits for public safety workers are more expensive than those of other local government workers, largely due to earlier retirement ages.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, though, their retirement benefits make up only a very small share of total local government spending.
  • Some evidence suggests that public safety workers could work longer, which may have implications for plans’ retirement age.
  • However, raising retirement ages would have little impact on government finances, particularly since it might involve higher wages to maintain a quality workforce.

Tax Break Tracker

Source: Good Jobs First, 2020

Discover How Much Revenue Governments in the United States Lose Every Year to Tax Abatement Programs

TAX BREAK TRACKER is the first national search engine for tax abatement disclosures per Statement No.77 of the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for governmental entities – set forth by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). For more information about this new accounting rule, visit our GASB-77 Resource Center.

This database already includes nearly 20,000 individual entries extracted from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) – each represents a reduction in tax revenue due to one or more economic development tax abatement programs as reported by a jurisdiction in a particular year, or the lack thereof: Many jurisdictions failed to comply with GASB 77.

Search by state or local governments from the drop-down menus below to find out the cost of economic development incentive programs to public services. For additional explanations, check out this user guide. If you do not see the locality you are looking for, you might find it here in this list of localities that failed to disclose their revenue losses: 1/6/2020

Taxation by Citation? Exploring Local Governments’ Revenue Motive for Traffic Fines

Source: Min Su, Public Administration Review, Volume 80 Issue 1, January/February 2020
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Anecdotal evidence suggests that local governments may have a revenue motive for traffic fines, beyond public safety concerns. Using California’s county‐level data over a 12‐year period, this article shows that counties increased per capita traffic fines by 40 to 42 cents immediately after a 10 percentage point tax revenue loss in the previous year; however, these counties did not reduce traffic fines if they experienced a tax revenue increase in the previous year. This finding indicates that county governments probably view traffic fines as a revenue source to offset tax revenue loss, but not as a revenue stabilizer to manage revenue fluctuation. This article also finds that low‐income and Hispanic‐majority counties raised more traffic fines. Counties that generated more revenue from the hotel tax—a tax typically paid by travelers and visitors—raised more traffic fines, indicating a possible tax‐exporting behavior by shifting the traffic fine burden to nonlocal drivers.

Stress Testing States 2019

Source: Sarah Crane, Regional Financial Review, October 2019
(subscription required)

The business cycle is at a critical juncture. Recession risks in the U.S. are as high as they have been since the record-long economic expansion began more than a decade ago. Recessions and their place in the business cycle are an accepted fact of life in any organization, especially government. Therefore, preparing for recessions is an equally inescapable concept, with potentially devastating consequences for those who treat it as an afterthought. To help state governments better prepare for the next recession, Moody’s Analytics has taken to performing annual stress tests on their budgets. This paper will serve as an update to our 2018 state stress-testing exercise. We estimate the amount of fiscal stress likely to be applied to state budgets under different recession scenarios and compare that stress to the amount of money that states have set aside in reserve.

In the Shadow of State Government: Changes in Municipal Spending After Two Recessions

Source: Rebecca Hendrick, Robert P. Degnan, The American Review of Public Administration, OnlineFirst Published November 6, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This research estimates a model of own-source revenue diversification and a model of changes in operational spending in municipal governments from 1997 to 2012 to determine how these governments have adapted to the two significant recessions that occurred during this time period. The first model examines factors that affect revenue diversification, focusing on the state–local fiscal context and how the level of urbanization of the area surrounding the municipalities impacts the effect of state–local context and other factors. The second model examines how municipal governments in the United States have adapted their spending to the two severe recessions of the 2000s, focusing on how state context, revenue diversification, and other factors affect changes in operational spending. Finally, this research also looks at the conditional effects of the size of government on the impact of state context, environmental pressures, and revenue structure on changes in operational spending.

Nudging Early Reduces Administrative Burden: Three Field Experiments to Improve Code Enforcement

Source: Elizabeth Linos, Lisa T. Quan, Elspeth Kirkman, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Early View, November 5, 2019
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In the past decade, public sector organizations around the world have worked to simplify administrative processes as a way to improve user experience and compliance. Academic evidence on administrative burden supports this approach and there is a strong body of research showing that learning costs, compliance costs, and psychological costs help to explain why residents do not always take up programs for which they are eligible. This article considers the role of these types of costs in a different set of resident‐state interactions: compliance with regulations. We present the results of three large field experiments aimed at improving resident compliance with municipal housing codes using targeted behavioral interventions. We find that contacting property owners earlier, redesigning first notices, and proactively communicating with previous violators, can significantly improve compliance by 14.7 percent, 3.3 percent, and 9.2 percent, respectively, with costs savings ranging from 6 to 15 percent of a city’s annual enforcement budget. Our results counterintuitively suggest that sometimes adding steps to an administrative process can reduce the costs associated with the resident‐state interaction.

City Fiscal Conditions 2019

Source: National League of Cities, October 2019

From the summary:
This year’s City Fiscal Conditions research looked at the fiscal conditions and factors across 500+ U.S. cities.

Some key takeaways:
– Almost two in three finance officers in large cities are predicting a recession as soon as 2020
– Cities’ revenue growth stalled in the 2018 fiscal year, but this year’s continued drop indicates mounting pressures on city budgets
– The Midwest is bearing the brunt of declining conditions, the report found. Overall general fund revenues in midwestern cities dipped by 4.4% in fiscal year 2018

Pension Reforms and Public Sector Turnover

Source: Evgenia Gorina, Trang Hoang, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Published: June 24, 2019

From the abstract:
Over the past decade, many states have reformed their retirement systems by reducing benefit generosity, tightening retirement provisions, introducing non-defined-benefit (DB) plan options and even replacing DB plans with defined-contribution plans. Many of these reforms have affected post-employment benefits that public workers will receive when they retire. Have these reforms also affected the attractiveness of public sector employment? To answer this question, we use state-level data from 2002 to 2015 and examine the relationship between state pension reforms and public employee turnover following the reforms. We find that employee responsiveness to the reforms was tangible and that it differed by reform type and worker education. These results are important because the design of public retirement benefits will continue to influence the ability of the public sector to recruit and retain high-quality workforce.

A correction has been published.

State Higher Education Funding Cuts Have Pushed Costs to Students, Worsened Inequality

Source: Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, Matt Saenz, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 24, 2019

From the introduction:
Deep state cuts in funding for higher education over the last decade have contributed to rapid, significant tuition increases and pushed more of the costs of college to students, making it harder for them to enroll and graduate. These cuts also have worsened racial and class inequality, since rising tuition can deter low-income students and students of color from college.

Overall state funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the school year ending in 2018 was more than $6.6 billion below what it was in 2008 just before the Great Recession fully took hold, after adjusting for inflation. In the most difficult years after the recession, colleges responded to significant funding cuts by increasing tuition, reducing faculty, limiting course offerings, and in some cases closing campuses. Funding has rebounded somewhat, but costs remain high and services in some places have not returned.

The potential benefits of a college degree are significant, with greater lifetime earnings for those who obtain a bachelor’s degree relative to those who only receive a high school diploma. But cuts to higher education, rising tuition, and stagnant household earnings make it difficult for today’s students — a cohort more racially and economically diverse than any before it — to secure those benefits….