Smart Management

Leadership and the Tricky Politics of Public Opinion

We usually think of politics in two ways: as the "big-P" politics of campaigns and referendums -- noisy, zero-sum contests that get lots of public attention -- and the "small-P" politics of gaining approval for policies and projects. These are the non-zero-sum contests of compromise and tradeoffs that revolve around regulatory approvals, planning board and city council votes, and the occasional state law.

But there's a third version, a kind of meta-politics that's critical to progress but rarely gets noticed. It's the politics of public opinion. How important is public opinion? Listen to Abraham Lincoln: "With public sentiment," Lincoln said, "nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions." READ MORE

B&G Report: Useless Opinions, Outsourcing Outcomes, and Leslie Knope-Inspired Awards

For a long time, we’ve assumed that supplemental appropriations -- the provision of additional money made partway through the budget year when the approved budget fails to meet expenses -- were a sign of imprecise budgeting, potentially due to purposefully understated expenditures. But we’ve spent some time lately looking into the topic and have begun to recognize that there are lots of reasons why supplemental allocations can be unavoidable (like the remarkable deluge of snow this year). Moreover, apparently some entities use supplementals as a conservative way of budgeting, leaving some available cash out of the budget that will only be spent if necessary. We’d welcome thoughts on the topic. Does your entity use lots of supplemental appropriations during the fiscal year? And if so, are the supplementals being used for good reasons?

It’s bad enough when cities, counties and states forgo soliciting public input when making significant plans that can potentially change the lives of citizens. But what do you think of a state that opens a 30-day public comment period for a plan a week after the plan was already finished and sent in to the federal agency that needed to approve it? READ MORE

Is the Era of Unfunded Federal Mandates Over?

A Congressional Budget Office report issued in late March includes a rather surprising revelation: With the exception of the Affordable Care Act and another law affecting child nutrition passed in 2010, Congress has not passed any significant bill imposing unfunded mandates on state, local or tribal governments since 2008.

When the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) was passed in 1995, the problem was considered so important that the bill that became this law was the first to be introduced in the new Republican-controlled House after that party took over Congress for the first time in 40 years. The reason? Republicans desperately wanted to amend the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget, but states and localities raised concerns that the federal budget might be balanced simply by passing responsibilities -- and costs -- down to state and local governments. READ MORE

Public Pensions and the Lessons of Success

Do we learn more from success or failure? When it comes to state- and local-government pensions, we tend to focus on the plans that are struggling. But there are valuable lessons to learn from public-sector retirement plans that have remained well funded and from governments that have successfully negotiated changes to put their pension systems on a path to full funding.

Well funded in Illinois: Given all the headlines about Illinois' seemingly endless struggle to reform its pensions, some might be surprised to learn that that the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), the state's second-largest public pension, is a model of fiscal responsibility. READ MORE

B&G Report: Ignored Reports, Government-Bought iPods and Auditing Auditors

Data is the foundation of a wide range of analysis that’s important to cities, counties and states. But beware when the data are self-reported. Here’s an example:

Apparently when the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) puts together its annual paper about frequency of drug use, the data is self-reported. This seems to work pretty well when it comes to marijuana. But, according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, respondents are far less likely to tell the truth when self-reporting about their use of other drugs, notably heroin. READ MORE