Muni sweeps: Rocking the digital city

By Cate Long
May 17, 2011

Rocking the digital city

The New York City Mayor’s Office has published the “Road Map for the Digital City.” It’s an exciting vision of a city government connecting to and empowering its citizens.

From the executive summary:

New York City government engages over 25 million people a year through more than 200 digital channels including nyc.gov, mobile applications, and social media.

As a pioneer in Open Government, New York City government has unlocked thousands of public records, enabling technologists to build tools that help New Yorkers everyday, from finding parking spaces to listening to audio tours of Central Park.

But we can do more. Road Map for the Digital City outlines a path to build on New York City’s successes and establish it as the world’s top-ranked Digital City, based on indices of Internet access, Open Government, citizen engagement, and digital industry growth.

Kudos to the team in the mayor’s office who see how cities can be made more efficient and livable with information and transparency.

Thank you, Ms. Whitney

Lost in all the criticism of Meredith Whitney, the equity analyst who has predicted hundreds of municipal defaults, is the possibility that her panic call was a “come to Jesus” moment for state and local entities.

Meredith’s predictions highlighted the stressed condition of municipal balance sheets. I think this dose of sobering sunlight has focused attention on pension shortfalls and has been the direct cause of the enormous drop-off in municipal bond issuance. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, any municipalities have plenty of borrowing space left but have withdrawn from the market:

[A]nalysts continue to revise downward their forecasts for 2011 bond issuance. Average weekly issuance so far this year has been $3 billion, according to MMD. That compares with about $8 billion a week in 2010.

Of course, the bond dealers are very disappointed in the reduced issuance:

“While this is a sad comment on the state of the market, we remain hopeful the deal pipeline will accelerate over the next month,” said J.P. Morgan analyst Alex Roever, noting that various types of deficit financings might be authorized as the fiscal year draws to a close.

Let’s thank Ms. Whitney for highlighting the municipal debt problem. Now if she could just focus on the federal debt problem…

Welcome to Hotel California?

There are a handful of states that continue to have substantial structural deficit problems. As Stateline reports today, California leads this pack by a wide margin:

…the nonpartisan legislative analyst here, Mac Taylor, recently forecast annual state deficits of $20 billion until 2016, long after most economists expect a national recovery.

That huge imbalance comes from the steady growth of California’s many spending obligations and the inability of the state’s revenue system to keep up, a gap that remains clear even after state officials announced an unexpected influx of $6.6 billion in tax collections on Monday (May 16). A sum that huge would make lawmakers in other states jump for joy; in California, however, it does not come close to solving the long-term problem.

The fiscal pressures cut across state government. Health care rolls are swelling and becoming costlier because of inflation, more retired state workers are collecting pension checks, and expensive interest payments on billions of dollars in state debt are coming due. Meanwhile, a raft of political roadblocks, from ballot-box budgeting to powerful special interests that benefit from the status quo, only compounds the problem. For those with the responsibility of balancing the books, the result is a constantly shrinking pot of discretionary dollars — and a ticking clock.

Mini sweeps

Public CIO: Study: 8 Essential Elements for an Effective Government Social Media Policy

Fast Company: United States of Innovation

Seeking Alpha: Time to Sell Munis Again

Bloomberg: California’s $6.6 Billion Revenue Gain to Delay Brown Taxes

Bloomberg: Harrisburg Incinerator, Source of Fiscal Woes, May Save Its City

NJ.com: Gov. Christie hears mix of boos and cheers before he delivers Seton Hall commencement address

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