Public Money

States and Cities May Need Shelter From the Storm Brewing in U.S. Housing Policy

The direction set by Ben Carson, the new Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, will have immense impacts on localities. For starters, federal housing programs make up 40 percent of federal transfers to local governments. That’s a big chunk of change even as federal transfers overall have been in a long-term decline. 

Before we go on, here are some key numbers: Since 1977, the share of local government revenue from non-tax sources has remained fairly steady at 60 percent of general revenue. But the composition of non-tax revenue has changed. The portion from intergovernmental transfers declined from 43 percent of general revenue in 1977 to 36 percent in 2013, while revenue from charges and fees increased from 15 percent to 23 percent. Likewise, while the share of general revenue from local taxes has remained at about 40 percent, the composition of tax revenue has changed. The contribution of property taxes to general revenue declined from 34 percent in 1977 to 30 percent in 2013, while revenue from sales taxes increased from 5 percent to 7 percent. READ MORE

The Secret Benefits of Sharing Government Services

Each September, Umatilla County, Ore., hosts the Pendleton Round-Up, a massive rodeo that draws 50,000 people, nearly doubling the county’s population. Cowboys and cowgirls from across the country bring their broncos to compete, while guests line up to watch them battle bulls and rope steers, among other things, over the three-day affair.

But bringing so many people together has a downside: Each year, there are always outbreaks of communicable diseases such as rotavirus and influenza. Umatilla County’s public health professionals have the unenviable task of containing these outbreaks. Fortunately, they don’t go it alone. The county has several cross-jurisdictional sharing arrangements with other counties throughout the region. An especially important one is with neighboring Morrow County. That agreement allows public health officials in one county fast access to patient case files from the other. When infections can spread quickly, time is of the essence, so the arrangement is a real asset. READ MORE

Breaking Down the Financial Impact of Self-Driving Cars

The expectations over driverless cars are stratospherically high. For one, there’s the fascination with the technology and the presumption of an easier commute: The self-driving car will take us to work while we surf the Internet, read files and review emails. Once it drops us off, it returns home where others in our household can use it -- until it’s time to call it to pick us up and take us home again.

There’s more to this futuristic concept than creature comforts, though. With self-driving cars anticipated to be in wider use on our roads within four years, there are promises of extraordinary impacts on state and local finances -- most of them positive; a few not. Several reports from some of the biggest names in banking put startling numbers on the effects wrought by a changeover to driverless driving.   READ MORE

Selling Your Sewer’s Story

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) deploys a team of experts to grade our national infrastructure. The team analyzes dozens of national data sources to determine the overall condition of our roads, bridges, tunnels and other key infrastructure. Their work is based on a simple concept: When governments invest in infrastructure, the grades improve.

Their most recent Report Card for America’s Infrastructure came out in 2013, and the results were grim. They gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D+ and said we needed to spend $3.6 trillion just to bring our basic infrastructure back to suitable working condition.  READ MORE

Will Clinton or Trump’s Tax Plans Trickle Down?

During this election season, the presidential candidates have offered up their federal tax reform plans which, depending on who you asked, would either provide much-needed relief for hard-working families or tax America’s middle class out of existence. But there’s an important aspect of the conversation that has been left out. Neither of the candidates have explained how their plans would really affect state and local governments. 

Let me flesh this out. Under that hoary old concept of reciprocal immunity, no level of government should be taxing another government’s essential activities, like, say, financing of public infrastructure -- a critical issue in the decade to come and one the states have increasingly funded. The Congressional Budget Office tells us that public spending on transportation and water infrastructure totaled $416 billion in 2014. State and local governments provided $320 billion of it; the federal government, only $96 billion. According to the Boston Federal Reserve, annual capital spending by state and local governments over the last decade accounted for 12 percent of their total spending. Capital investments account for 14.4 percent of outstanding state and local long-term public debt. READ MORE