Better, Faster, Cheaper

How Portland Is Tackling the Innovation Dilemma

We rightly expect a great deal from our municipal governments. We want city departments to be innovative -- but not to take unwise risks. We want their projects to generate impressive long-term results -- but not to cost taxpayers heavily upfront.

Can government be at once cutting-edge and careful? It's a paradox that for years has stymied municipal innovation in cities across the country. READ MORE

Can Chicago Ever Dig Itself Out of Its Pension Hole?

Incoming Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers is pledging to improve investment returns for the city's pension funds and reduce investment-management fees. Both are worthy goals, but he's the first to admit that they "aren't going to change the kinds of holes we have."

As treasurer, Summers will sit on the boards of all four Chicago pension funds, which are a mess. Combined, they have less than 33 percent of the funds needed to meet pension obligations. Two of them -- the police and fire systems -- are less than 30 percent funded. READ MORE

Getting Real about Pension Investments

It's certainly tempting for officials in charge of state pension systems to hike up assumed rates of return. Better investment returns translate into smaller appropriations to fund pensions and can facilitate generous cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.

But wishing for better returns doesn't make them so, and unrealistic assumptions about pension-fund investment performance take a heavy toll over time. A new study quantifies just what that toll is in six states; in five of them, it isn't pretty. READ MORE

Weaving Innovation into the Fabric of Bureaucracy

When 38 inches of snow buried Boston in 2011, most residents dug out their sidewalks. But no one dug out the fire hydrants so that fire trucks could find them. Today, however, Boston is prepared, courtesy of an innovative program in which citizens can "adopt" a hydrant and agree to be responsible for digging it out in a snowstorm.

That innovation was spawned via the nonprofit Code for America, but today, cities, states and even federal agencies are creating dedicated innovation offices with the goal of weaving innovation into the fabric of bureaucracy. But what do these offices do? And are they doing anything useful? READ MORE

When Public Employees Won’t Budge on Their Benefits

How bad can a school system's finances get? Probably not much worse than Philadelphia's, whose near-perpetual fiscal crisis almost prevented the city's schools from opening on time in each of the last two years. Now a nasty fight over health-insurance costs between the commission that oversees the schools and the city's teachers' union is writing the latest chapter in the nationwide effort to rein in exorbitant public-employee benefits.

The Philadelphia schools' financial problems are longstanding The state took over the system in 2001, and it is currently governed by a School Reform Commission (SRC), three of whose five members are appointed by the governor and two by the mayor. READ MORE