Smart Management

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

The Blurry Future of Health-Care Spending

Total U.S. health-care spending rose just 3.7 percent in 2012, decreasing as a share of the economy for the second consecutive year. In fact, health-care costs grew more slowly each year from 2009 to 2012 than in any other year since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began collecting the data in 1960. The news was welcomed, because for years soaring health-care expenditures had far exceeded U.S. economic growth.

But as Pew's State Health-care Spending Project found in a recent analysis, the national health-care spending story in 2011 and 2012 was very different from the experience of state and local governments, where spending increased twice as fast, principally because a temporary surge in federal Medicaid funding delivered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stopped flowing. As state and local governments continue to navigate the aftermath of the Great Recession, health-care spending remains a source of fiscal pressure. READ MORE

The Trouble with Email

When we were in college, we discovered we could always get a group of people into an animated conversation if we simply brought up old television programs. That was a shared universe for most of us, and episodes of “I Love Lucy” or “Leave It to Beaver” were the currency of the realm.

Want to accomplish the same thing with a group of men and women who work in the public sector (and we presume the private sector as well)? Start talking about the various reasons you loathe or fear email. The conversation that flows from there will likely be inclusive and possibly even include some unsavory language. READ MORE