Chart of Note: Unfunded State Pensions

Chart of Note: Unfunded State Pensions

Unfunded pension liabilities are a serious issue for state and local governments facing significant short and long-term financial challenges. Even North Carolina is not immune from the crisis, though the depth of despair is far greater in other states.

This summary by George Mason University researcher Veronique de Rugy, along with the chart, give us an idea of how significant employee pension liabilities now are. The potential, due to differences in accounting standards between the public and private sectors, that unfunded liabilities could be almost 8 times greater than currently reported forces local government professionals to consider the potential ramifications if States have to take severe austerity measures in order to reallocate resources to meeting their obligations.

Census Bureau Launches Economic Indicator Database

Census Bureau Launches Economic Indicator Database

The Census Bureau just announced the launch of an online Economic Indicator Database that anyone can use to search and download in multiple formats.

More on this development, its uses and potential are featured in these comments by Robert Marske of the Census Bureau’s Office of Economic Planning and Innovation, posted at the Census Bureau Blog:

Right now, four economic indicators are included in the new tool: three monthly reports (international trade, wholesale trade, and manufacturers’ shipments, inventories, and orders), and the quarterly services survey. By the end of next year all twelve indicators will be included. We developed the new tool to provide a user-friendly web application — a one-stop-shop for data from all of the Census Bureau’s economic indicators. Easy enough for anyone to use.

The new tool incorporates best practices in many dimensions: it employs a web delivery tool similar to that used by other agencies. It uses state-of-the art open source software. It’s 508 compliant (accessible), and it employs standard file formats for data and metadata so it will be easy to adapt to other applications. An online brochure shows how to use the new tool, including sample tables.

The new tool will have many uses and users. Outside users (business analysts, the press, economic researchers) can use it for quicker access to the data they need for modeling, trend analyses, and other research. As a bonus, the Census Bureau’s own industry analysts are finding the tool makes it easier for them do specific kinds of analysis before releasing the data. That, in turn, means the new tool is improving the quality of the data we publish.

So far, feedback from data users has been very positive — and more important, sharp increases in web traffic over the last few months means more folks are relying on the Census Bureau’s data.

We invite you to try out the new tool yourself. And stay tuned for the inclusion of additional economic indicators in the near future.

Quick Primer on “The Beige Book”

Earlier today, the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee published an update on its almost-monthly overview of current national economic conditions, a document known as “The Beige Book.” This report, which provides written summaries of economic activity across several sectors, contains a nationwide overview as well as reports by Federal Reserve District.

“The Beige Book” is published 8 times a year (January, March, April, June, July, September, October, and December) and is available online in HTML and PDF format. The Richmond District summary is something you can consider sharing with your senior staff and elected officials, as it is a combination of both statistical analysis and commentary from business owners surveyed to gauge other facets of economic activity.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond also provides more-detailed reports of information contained in “The Beige Book,” by district and state. Current and time-series data is available for North Carolina on employment, income, and real estate information. If you are unable to generate your own reporting, this makes a pretty adequate, regularly-updated substitute.

Link to “The Beige Book”

Link to Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Reports (Snapshots)

New UNC MPA Capstone Papers – Now Available Online

New UNC MPA Capstone Papers – Now Available Online

Last month, the UNC School of Government MPA Class of 2011 presented their Capstone papers during their annual conference. I had the opportunity to attend this conference and was once again impressed with the professional research, investigation, and analysis provided by these students on a variety of topics pertinent to public administration and local government.

The School of Government has now published these papers online for review and utilization. Several papers focus on issues related to finance and budgeting, as well as other subjects of interest to our membership that include:

Business as Usual or Political Suicide: Property Tax Increases in North Carolina — Lana Hygh

The Food Fight: An Examination of the Prepared Meals and Beverage Tax as a Viable Revenue Generation Source in North Carolina D’Anna Wade

Pension Obligation Bonds: Are States and Localities Behaving Themselves or Do the Feds Need to Get Involved? — Allan Beckmann

The Why’s and How’s of Citizen Satisfaction Surveys: An Examination of the Relationships between Data Use and Achieving Desired Outcomes Among National Citizen Survey Participants — Bo Gattis

Collaboration Incentives: Local Government Experiences with ARRA — Catherine Durham

Managerial Effect: Comparing Forms of Local Government — Terry Waterfield

Municipal PerformanceStat: How is Success Defined? What Factors Contribute to Success? — Jonathan Palmer

The Role of North Carolina County Finance Departments in Emergency Management — Daniel Sargent

Employee Perceptions of Furlough Fairness: The UNC-Chapel Hill Case — Ingrid Rosiuta

Special thanks to Susan Lynch and the UNC School of Government staff for taking care of posting these papers online.