A wave of innovation is sweeping American cities. Hard fiscal times and inexpensive technologies are prompting many governments to develop new and innovative programs. New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation are leading nationwide competitions to showcase innovative public programs, while two other states have rolled out tools for their cities and taxpayers. Righting the muniland ship will require stabilizing budgets and creating innovative ways to deliver public services.
Last week I wrote about local officials needing governance resources, and this week two of the largest states, Texas and New York, rolled out a few. The Houston Chronicle reported on the efforts of Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs to inform taxpayers about how much local debt they are responsible for:
Local governments are loading down Texas taxpayers with debt without providing them enough information about the amount already owed for roads, schools and other public projects, State Comptroller Susan Combs contends in a report released Wednesday.
The report, “Your Money and Your Debt,” notes that the current level of government debt approved by Texas cities and counties soared from 2001 through 2011, with tax-supported debt of cities increasing 126 percent to $27 billion. Tax-supported county debt, the report said, grew by 131 percent to $10.3 billion. “As taxpayers step into a voting booth to approve new debt, government should tell them how much they are already responsible for repaying and how much debt service is included,” Combs said in a statement.
In New York State, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced plans to implement an early warning monitoring system to identify municipalities and school districts experiencing signs of budgetary strain. From the Comptroller’s press release: