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    Is Paying People Not to Commit Crimes Effective?

    Washington, D.C., may offer some people financial incentives to follow the law. It wouldn't be the first.
    BY  FEBRUARY 8, 2016

    If the threat of jail or job loss isn’t enough incentive not to commit a crime, here’s one more: cash money.

    That’s the tactic Washington, D.C., is considering after the city suffered an alarming 54 percent increase in its murder rate last year. A similar approach in Richmond, Calif., has helped to reduce crime.

    The city council in D.C. gave unanimous but preliminary approval to a bill earlier this month that would identify up to 200 young people a year considered at risk of either committing or becoming victims of violent crime. If they complete behavioral therapy, life planning and mentorship programs run by the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement -- and stay crime-free the entire year -- they would get paid.

    The bill doesn't specify how much participants could earn, but the program would cost an average of $1.2 million a year for the first four years, including $460,000 for stipends.

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    The Week in Public Finance: A Muni Bond Victory in Congress and a Ukraine-Inspired Idea to Restructure Puerto Rico

    A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
    BY  FEBRUARY 5, 2016

    Preparing -- or Not -- for a Slowdown

    The financial outlook for states and localities over the next few years, simply put, isn’t as rosy as it’s been for the past couple of years. (If you even want to call the last couple of years rosy.)

    Last week, we reported that states other than oil-dependent ones are dealing with mid-year spending cuts. Looking ahead, state budget forecasters are expecting tepid sales and income tax revenue growth for both 2016 and 2017. If spending continues to grow faster than revenues, the next few years could be challenging for government budgets.

    “States still haven’t made up for a lot of the cutting that got done in the last six to eight years,” said Bill Pound, the executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures. In particular, states are still trying to restore education funding while implementing higher standards, he said.

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    How Oil States Are Dealing With Sinking Prices and Revenue

    The states most dependent on oil tax revenues have different ways of dealing with the industry slowdown.
    BY  FEBRUARY 4, 2016

    Oil prices are now at their lowest level in 12 years -- below $30 a barrel. That's great news for consumers, but not for the states that depend on oil tax revenues.

    The falling price of oil, which has declined more than 60 percent since June 2014, has some states scrambling. With no end in sight, states that are more dependent on the industry simply can't replace the revenue by withdrawing from their substantial rainy day funds.

    Oil, natural gas and mining account for about 10 percent or more of gross domestic product in eight states: Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. Last year, total tax revenues in the eight states declined by 3.2 percent, according to a new analysis by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. In contrast, the remaining 42 states reported a 6.5 percent increase in total tax revenues.

    Although most of these states tend to budget conservatively, the good years for oil had an impact on their finances.

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    New Library in Seattle Tries a Novel Idea: Books

    In Seattle, a new private library -- the first of its kind in a century -- is based on the throwback idea of having a quiet place to read.
    BY  FEBRUARY 2016

    These days, public libraries are as likely to have video production studios and 3-D printers as they are shelves of books. One library in San Diego is pushing things even further, with a new biotech lab, where patrons can examine cells under microscopes and even extract and copy DNA.

    But in Seattle, a new private library is offering a surprising old-fashioned amenity: a quiet place to sit and read a book.

    Called Folio, the nonprofit membership library opened last month, just a block from the city’s Rem Koolhaas-designed public library, with about 300 members. Well-established “athenaeum” libraries -- institutions devoted to literary or scientific study, like the libraries in Boston; Providence, R.I.; and elsewhere -- can boast 200-year-old collections and cultivate somewhat of an elite status.

    But Folio, which bills itself as the first new athenaeum library in more than a century, has memberships as low as $10 a month, and its chief aim is to be a place where book lovers and writers can congregate -- albeit quietly.

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    The Week in Public Finance: How Budgetless Illinois Still Runs, Spending Cuts Coming and St. Louis' Not-So-Big NFL Loss

    A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
    BY  JANUARY 29, 2016

    Avoiding the Bill Collectors

    Illinois is one of two states that still has no budget this year. How does it keep running? Partly, by letting its bills stack up.

    Illinois law lets the state defer paying bills until the following fiscal year -- a tool the state has used liberally for years. Because of that, the state’s unpaid bills have now climbed to a total of $6.6 billion, a backlog equal to 19 percent of what the state spends from its general fund. “If the state fails to address its structural imbalance for subsequent years,” warned Moody's Investors Service, “the payment backlog will swell to $25 billion, or 64 percent of expenditures” over the next three years.

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