Metropolitan Center awarded grant for project to improve government accountability

The Green School’s Metropolitan Center has received a $160,000 grant for a multiyear study focused on improving fiscal sustainability in all 50 states.

The grant was awarded by the Volcker Alliance, a non-profit organization launched in 2013 by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker, to help rebuild public trust in government. The alliance collaborates with universities and other organizations to research and improve the efficiency and transparency of governmental organization at the federal, state and local levels.

FIU is one of the 13 academic partners working with the alliance on “The Truth and Integrity in Government Finance Project,” an effort to evaluate and improve the quality and accountability of budgeting and fiscal practices across the U.S.

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“Trust in government is at a low point and part of that reasons is that the public cannot even tell what our government can afford,” said Volcker. “There is an urgent need to restore trust and pride in the way our public institutions implement policies – from the White House and Congress to statehouses, cities, and towns across our country and in democracies around the world.”

A team of two professors from the Department of Public Administration - David Guo and Howard Frank – and two graduate students has been collecting data on five state governments including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Delaware and West Virginia. The second phase of the project began in August, with the collection of data on state governments budgeting and reporting performance.

“Accounting may be complicated, but governments have an obligation to the public to reveal what services cost, how much money is borrowed, where there are shortfalls, and what tradeoffs society will face to balance the budget,” said Volcker. “This project aims to show the way.”

In addition to FIU, the academic partners on the project include Arizona State University; City University of New York; Cornell University; Georgia State University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Kentucky; University of Minnesota; and University of Utah.

Among the study’s findings so far:

  • Half of the states failed to make contributions to public employee pension systems that the plans’ actuaries recommended;
  • About 20 percent of states filled budget gaps with proceeds of asset sales, upfront payments on financings, or other financial transactions;
  • Seven states borrowed funds to close budget deficits, while 17 shifted current-year costs to future years; and
  • Only a handful of states fully disclosed the cost of deferred infrastructure maintenance.