Better, Faster, Cheaper

Chicago's Data-Powered Recipe for Food Safety

Government's traditional approach to so many of its regulatory activities has been an inefficient and expensive one that frustrates both public employees and citizens: piling up mountains of rules and heirarchies of bureaucracy in an effort to make sure that every situation was treated exactly alike, no matter whether it was dealing with a good actor or a bad actor.

A breakthrough of enormous importance has now emerged from Chicago, a city that continues to set the standard for others by using data to improve government. The city is leading the way in harnessing advanced data analytics to improve public health, with high-level leadership from the mayor and day-to-day leadership from the talented pair of Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman and Chief Data Officer Tom Schenk. READ MORE

Rolling the Dice to Save Chicago’s Pensions

The fiscal impact of last week's Illinois Supreme Court ruling striking down a 2013 law designed to fix the nation's most dysfunctional public pension system is obvious in a state that already had to set aside up to $7 billion annually just to keep pace with its retirement obligations. But the ruling may have just as great an effect on Chicago, whose pension funds are in nearly as bad a shape as the state system.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been negotiating with the city's police and fire unions to avoid a state-mandated $550 million payment to shore up their pension systems, each of which is less than 30 percent funded. But in the wake of the court's unanimous ruling that a provision in the state constitution that prohibits pension promises from being "diminished or impaired" means what it says, the unions aren't in much of a bargaining mood. READ MORE

Is It Worth Spending $111,000 to Create One Job?

Recent headlines and new research remind us that when state and local governments bet on specific industries or companies, taxpayers usually lose.

In 2008, Massachusetts launched an initiative that authorized the state's Life Sciences Center to invest $1 billion over a decade ($500 million in grants, $250 million in loans and another $250 million in tax credits) to expand life-sciences-related employment and support research, development, manufacturing and commercialization. READ MORE

The Temptation to Make Somebody Else Pay for Roads

We all enjoy the benefits of things that cost money, but we often have an irresistible desire to pass the expense on to someone else. It rarely ends well when we indulge that particular slice of human nature, which seems to be the path Texas is taking when it comes to highway funding.

For years, Texas was a leader in innovations such as using public-private partnerships to build, operate and maintain new toll roads and developing express lanes that cost more to use but guarantee shorter travel times. These approaches attracted private capital and provided a sustainable way for the fast-growing state to pay for its burgeoning highway needs. They also created a system under which roadways are funded primarily by those who benefit from them instead of from broad-based tax revenues. READ MORE

A $42 Million Bet on Cities and the Power of Data

There is an emerging attention toward performance in city government. But that means we have to create the tools, culture and human infrastructure necessary to drive that performance. The movement to lay this groundwork got an important boost this week when Bloomberg Philanthropies announced its What Works Cities initiative, an integrated set of reforms that aims to transform the effectiveness of local government.

The central innovation of the foundation's $42 million program is to weave together individual components of high-performance governing into a unified picture of how cities can use data and evidence to govern effectively and responsively. The initiative draws attention to the pillars of what works in cities: a focus on public value, a focus on using data relentlessly, a focus on repurposing money from projects that don't work to those that do. In parallel, the program plans to recognize and quantify the success of those cities that are excelling and provide a roadmap for what other cities can do to succeed. READ MORE