Public Policy Institute
June 20, 2014
An Indiana University fiscal benchmarking project will produce timely and accessible information about the fiscal health of local governments for state and local officials and Hoosier voters.
"Fiscal Benchmarking for Indiana's Local Governments," launched this month by the IU Public Policy Institute and the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, will draw on government data to produce indicators of fiscal health based on spending, revenue and debt.
With these indicators and benchmarks, state policymakers, local officials and interested citizens can measure the impact of state laws on local governments, compare the fiscal health of similar units, find best practices in fiscal operations and access an evidence-based tool for research and policy discussions.
"This project provides new, detailed information about local government for state and local policymakers," said project coordinator Jamie Palmer, senior policy analyst with the IU Public Policy Institute. "Providing comparable data for Indiana's 92 counties, more than 1,000 townships and more than 500 cities and towns will allow them to assess how they're doing relative to their peers."
The project is led by an advisory committee chaired by Craig Johnson, associate professor of public finance in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington, and made up of IU faculty and policy experts and local government officials from across Indiana. It is an extension of Policy Choices for Indiana's Future, an initiative of the IU Public Policy Institute to provide unbiased information about issues facing Indiana state and local governments.
Project officials note that laws governing how Indiana's local governments operate have changed significantly in the past five years. The state instituted caps on property taxes, and some local governments have shifted to relying more on local-option income taxes. The Great Recession reduced revenue from most sources, further squeezing local government operations.
Fiscal benchmarking involves assessing the financial condition of local government units in a way that documents their ability to meet current and future obligations. It typically includes comparing the financial situation of a local government to that of similar units over time. For example, a county could be compared to another county with similar population, economy and services.
"Fiscal Benchmarking for Indiana's Local Governments" uses data from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, the State Board of Accounts, the State Auditor, the State Budget Agency and the federal government. Much of the data is available in electronic form via the Indiana Gateway, making the benchmarking project feasible. The Indiana Gateway was created by the Indiana Business Research Center at the IU Kelley School of Business on behalf of the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance and the State Board of Accounts.
Projects of the initiative will include comprehensive annual reports of fiscal data for local governments in the state. The first report, covering data from 2011 and 2012 for all counties, townships, cities and towns, is expected this summer. Policy briefs on issues facing local government in Indiana will also be part of the project.
About the IU Public Policy Institute
The IU Public Policy Institute, located in Indianapolis and established in 1993 within the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, delivers unbiased research and data-driven, objective, expert analysis to help public, private and nonprofit sectors make important decisions that directly impact quality of life in Indiana and throughout the nation. Using the knowledge and expertise of a multidisciplinary staff and faculty, the institute provides data and analysis that addresses a wide range of issues. It helps leaders, citizens, businesses and organizations solve problems, seize opportunities and create positive change. The institute also supports the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
About the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs
SPEA was founded in 1972 and is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2012 "Best Graduate Schools" by U.S. News & World Report, SPEA ranks second and is the nation's highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs at a public institution. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings. SPEA's doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy are also ranked by the National Research Council as among the top two in the nation.