MuniLand

Chris Christie’s “too big to fails”


Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey who has consistently been championed as a “fiscal conservative,” has a real soft spot for several of his state’s “too big to fail” private projects. These projects include the massive retail/entertainment/sports/dining complex at the Meadowlands and the Revel casino project in Atlantic City. Governor Christie has made his state, which is in perilous financial condition, equity partners in the two projects.

Meanwhile a court order is forcing Governor Christie to increase the state’s contribution to public schools:

The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the Christie administration on Tuesday to increase state education aid by $500 million in the coming school year, saying it had failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide adequate educational resources for poor and minority children…

… Stephen M. Sweeney, the Senate president, said that Mr. Christie “was well aware that his draconian cuts to education were illegal,” and noted that during his 2009 campaign, the governor vowed not to cut school aid.

Yes to gambling and shopping and no to education — there is something horribly wrong with this picture.

Open Palm Bay UPDATED

I’m very happy to present a guest post from Mr. Lee Feldman, the City Manager of Palm Bay, Florida. City Manager Feldman is a superstar of muniland transparency. Read how he and his team developed a fully open financial-reporting system to engage and empower the citizens of Palm Bay.  [UPDATE: On Tuesday, it was announced that Mr. Feldman would soon leave his position in Palm Bay to take over as city manager of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.]

Open.PalmBayFlorida.org – Financial Transparency at the Public’s Fingertips

The City of Palm Bay, Florida, felt our neighbors deserved to have a simple way to see how their tax dollars were spent. In December 2009 the City created Open Palm Bay, an online interactive database that allows them to view and search the City’s financial information at any time.

The intuitive database enables anyone to follow their money right down to the penny. Palm Bay believes that this easy-to-use website is the first of its kind in Florida, setting the benchmark for financial transparency in local government.

Sunlight and citizen participation

“We have incredible power as citizens if we just take action.” –from the Transparency Camp video

Wikipedia defines democracy as “a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law.” Democracy is an active state of governance that requires citizens to involve themselves in the affairs of the “polis.”

The Sunlight Foundation actively works to create citizen tools for transparency and accountability. Sunlight held the 4th annual “Transparency Camp” from April 30 to May 1. They drew citizens interested in using technology for local, state, federal and foreign government projects. You can see a small taste of the conference in the video above.

A warrior for transparency

My fellow Reuters blogger Felix Salmon  wrote about his lunch with the bond fund managers Loomis Sayles yesterday.

Bond fund managers generally are not keen on self directed investors. They believe that they are the best managers of investors’ fixed income assets. And some of Felix’s blog post reflected that.

The darkness and complexity of bond markets has served bond mutual funds well.  Generally retail investors, unless they have high net worth and a knowledgable advisor or broker, tend to allocate the “fixed income” portion of their assets into bond funds.  This is unlike the equity markets, where many investors feel confident buying individual stocks.

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