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New Project Will Compare Local Governments

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June 24, 2014 — TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS- A project launched this month by Indiana University will enable state policymakers, local officials and citizens to evaluate the impact of state laws on local government.

The project titled “Fiscal Benchmarking for Indiana’s Local Governments” will produce timely and accessible information about the fiscal health of local governments for state and local officials and voters. It will also try to show how certain laws are impacting local entities.

The information can then be used for comparing the fiscal health of similar units, finding the best practices in fiscal operations and accessing evidence-based tools for research and policy discussions.

It will use government data to produce indicators of fiscal health based on spending, revenue and debt.

The project was created by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute and the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Project coordinator Jamie Palmer, senior policy analyst with IU’s Public Policy Institute, said in a statement the project “provides new, detailed information about local government for state and local policymakers.”

“Providing comparable data for Indiana’s 92 counties, more than 1,000 townships, and more than 500 cities and towns will allow them (local leaders) to assess how they’re doing relative to their peers,” Palmer added.

The idea came about from an advisory committee chaired by Craig Johnson, associate professor of public finance in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU. The committee consisted of Indiana University faculty, policy experts, and local government officials.

The project serves as an extension of Policy Choices for Indiana’s Future, which is an initiative from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute that provides unbiased information about issues facing Indiana’s state and local governments.

Project officials realized that laws governing Indiana’s local governments have changed drastically in recent years.

The state has instituted caps on property taxes and some local governments have started to rely more on local-option income taxes. The recession has also reduced revenue from most sources.

Fiscal benchmarking involves the financial condition of local government units in a way that documents their ability to meet current and future obligations.

“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.

A majority of the data will be available online via the Indiana Gateway.

Comprehensive annual reports of fiscal data for local governments in the state will be included. The first report, covering data from 2011 and 2012 for all local governments, is expected some time this summer.

There will also be policy briefs on issues facing local government included in the project.

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