Fiscal Sustainability in Southern California
California is often seen as a bellwether for trends in government and public administration, and the state’s long term struggle to achieve fiscal sustainability is no exception. Long before the financial crisis of 2008, California communities have been searching for ways of making do with less. The Spring 2012 issue of the National Civic Review explores the relative success stories of four government entities in Southern California—two cities, a county and a school district—in adapting to a difficult and unpredictable fiscal environment. NCR’s publisher, Jossey-Bass (Wiley) is now making these articles available at no cost. You can access the on-line table of contents here or link to the article titles below:
- New Rules and New Realities: National Renewal and Fiscal Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century By Mark Pisano
- Moving Beyond Magical Thinking: Finding Leadership, Strategy, and Fiscal Sustainability in Local Government By Richard F. Callahan
The case investigations are part of a three-year research project on local governments and “fiscal sustainability” funded by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation. Last year, the National Civic League, the University of Southern California and the University of San Francisco entered into a partnership to conduct the research. The goal was to explore the impact of leadership in designing strategy to address several long-term structural changes in the economic and institutional environments, including:
- Slowing of the state’s economy
- Increased expectations for collective goods
- Skyrocketing costs, especially in employee salaries and benefits
- Greater limits on flexibility in collecting and spending state and local revenues
- Growing public skepticism on whether government can spend tax dollars wisely
The cases—Los Angeles County, the cities of Long Beach and Brea and the Whittier Union High School District—were selected through a process that involved, among other things, asking for recommendations from state–wide associations, including the California State Associations of Counties and the League of California Cities, as well as through discussion with researchers and senior executives with 20 or more years of local government experience.
Members of the research team interviewed a wide range of current and past officials from each of the jurisdictions, as well as drawing on Official Statements for borrowings, annual budget documents, as well as published strategic plans and related documents, news articles, and academic research publications.
In October of 2011, the research team presented initial findings of the investigation to a panel of experts consisting of researchers from the California Research Bureau and the Public Policy Institute of California, several (current and retired) county and city administrators, and several elected officials. The panel provided the research team with valuable feedback on the presented findings. Based on ideas generated from the October event, further discussions among team members, and additional interviews for the cases, the team has now completed the narrative and analysis for each case. All four cases, along with an overview the research process, have been published in volume 101:1 of the National Civic Review.
At the June 2011 board meeting of the National Civic League it was agreed that we would continue to make a priority of the issue of local government and fiscal sustainability. As we do so, we will be publishing more reports and case studies in the National Civic Review and other venues.
We hope this issue of NCR will spark an ongoing dialogue about the fiscal challenges facing American communities and how institutions can adapt to meet them. We would also like any readers of the special NCR issue or this blog to contact us and let us know of other examples of local governments addressing the challenge of fiscal sustainability. The research will continue in 2012 and 2013 thanks to support from the Haynes Foundation.