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    Entries in transparency (5)

    Friday
    Apr212017

    The Week in Public Finance: Ballmer's Data Trove, Grading Pension Health and a New Muni Bond Threat

    BY  APRIL 21, 2017

    This Goes Way Beyond Open Data

    You might not peg former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers as a government data geek. But Steven Ballmer stepped into that role in a grand scale this week when he unveiled his privately funded, years-long project to help citizens easily track how government spends their money.

    Called USAFacts, the website contains federal, state and local aggregated data on revenue and spending, as well as on debt, population, employment and pensions. Want to know about pension debt? Two quick searches reveal that unfunded liabilities in state and local retirement systems have more than quadrupled since 2000. At the same time, the median age in the country has increased by 2.5 years.

    As a businessman used to the corporate world, Ballmer wants to make government financial reports more readable. To that end, the site has introduced the first government "10-K report" -- the private sector's version of an annual financial report. It aggregates data from all U.S. governments and gives progress reports on government programs, provides financial balance sheets and gives data on key economic indicators.

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    Tuesday
    Feb142017

    From $37 to $339,000: Why the Price of Public Records Requests Varies So Much

    The laws about public records differ from one government to the next and are further complicated by some technologies, like police body cameras.
    BY  FEBRUARY 14, 2017

     

    In 2015, the editor of a newspaper in Florida filed a public records request with the Broward County Sheriff's Office asking for the email of every employee during a five-month period to be searched for specific gay slurs.

    In response, the South Florida Gay News received a $339,000 bill.

    The office said fulfilling the request would take four years and require hiring a dedicated staffer. The exorbitant charge set off a year-long legal battle that attracted the Associated Press and its lofty resources. To show how arbitrary the number was, the AP and South Florida Gay News filed a similar request to the sheriff's office in other Florida counties. They were quoted fees ranging from as little as $37 to more than $44,000.

    Why then is there such a big range of costs for similar information?

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    Thursday
    Dec292016

    5 Hot Topics Hitting Public Finance in 2017

    BY  DECEMBER 29, 2016

    In what could be a tumultuous year for state and local finances, these five issues are likely to take center stage.

    Tax Reform

    Many Capitol Hill watchers expect federal tax reform to roll forward in some fashion in 2017 now that a Republican will be in the White House. There are two major proposals on the table that could directly result in higher costs for states.

    For starters, many in Congress have been supportive of limiting the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. Removing this tax perk for bond investors would force governments to offer higher interest rates on the debt, thus increasing their cost of paying off that debt.

    It’s hard to overstate the potential impact of such a move. One estimate pegged the current tax perk savings for state and local governments at about $714 billion from 2000 to 2014. For its part, the federal government estimates it loses as much as $30 billion in potential income tax revenue each year as a result of the perk.

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    Thursday
    Aug252016

    SEC Censures 71 Governments for Lack of Fiscal Transparency

    Financial timeliness is a problem that's 'widespread and pervasive,' the SEC said.
    BY  AUGUST 25, 2016

    More than 70 state and local governments have been censured for failing to disclose certain financial information about bonds they sold to investors, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Wednesday.

    The SEC reached settlements with 71 governments across 45 states as part of a voluntary self-reporting program called the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation Initiative (MCDC). Only five states -- Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Rhode Island -- had no governments or government entities censured.

    The number of citations show the problem is “widespread and pervasive,” said SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney in a statement.

    MCDC is part of the commission's push for better transparency in the municipal market. Under the program, governments had to review documents associated with bonds they issued over the past five years. If they found anything amiss -- be it that they failed to disclose a previous annual financial report or didn't notify investors of a credit rating downgrade after the sale -- they could voluntarily come forward and obtain favorable settlement terms.

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    Friday
    Aug192016

    The Week in Public Finance: Demanding Better Government Disclosure, Uneven Recoveries and a Party at the Pump

    A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
    BY  AUGUST 19, 2016

    More Disclosure Pressure on Munis

    Investors in the municipal market have long demanded better access to governments’ financial information, particularly since the 2008 financial crisis. But tired of waiting, an industry group stepped up its calls for federal regulators to intervene this week in a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

    “The failure to publicly disclose bank loans to all market participants can lead to unexpected rating changes that negatively impact bond pricing,” said Lisa Washburn, chair of the National Federation of Municipal Analysts (NFMA). The group is calling for governments to disclose all interim but relevant information, such as an approved fiscal year budget and tax receipts, as well as clearly report any long-term debt obligations.

    The letter also suggests that the SEC adopt the authority to ensure that municipalities file their financial disclosures in a timely manner. Currently, there is no enforced deadline, and governments typically file annual reports anywhere from six months to a year after the close of a fiscal year.

    The Takeaway: The problem from an investor point of view is that the more troubled an issuer is, the more likely it will delay releasing relevant financial information. Take Puerto Rico, which is essentially out of cash and only recently issued its annual financial report for the 2014 fiscal year.

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