Proposed Alterations to the Local Government Fiscal Stress Indicator System for the State of Michigan

Monitoring the fiscal stress levels of local governments at the state level is a critical strategy for predicting and preventing fiscal crises. The State of Michigan currently monitors the fiscal stress levels of its local governments using a set of indicators created in 2002. These indicators, however, are not capturing all types of fiscal stress and are not being utilized to their fullest. In this report, we outline proposed changes to the current system, calculate the proposed indicators, and then compare them to the current system. The new fiscal stress indicator system proposed here builds upon the current system in five ways. First, it better captures different types of fiscal stress that are being missed in the current system, including those caused by transfers of money from one fund to another and unfunded long term liabilities. Second, it utilizes a mixture of scoring methods that help to determine both relative stress and absolute stress. Third, it measures both current stress levels and changes in stress levels in order to predict future stress in localities that are currently healthy and those that are worsening. Fourth, it captures the magnitude of stress within each indicator rather than assigning a point of either zero or one based on a single threshold. And fifth, it differentiates between different types of fiscal stress which allows it to be better linked with possible solutions based on the specific type of fiscal stress faced by each locality. Two key points are proposed in this paper. First, fiscal stress involves not only financial distress, but service level distress. If a locality is not providing an adequate level of services to its citizens, it is in stress. A city that has balanced books but a high level of unemployment or crime is not a healthy city. Second, not all types of fiscal stress will be solved through the use of short term strategies such as emergency financial managers and emergency loans. Some stress is chronic and requires solutions that are more structural in nature. Short term solutions may work well in situations where the stress is short term and perhaps internally controlled. They may not be successful, however, in situations where stress is chronic and external in nature. The new indicator system helps to distinguish between these different types of fiscal stress. However, fiscal stress indicator systems do not work in isolation. Results must be analyzed and acted upon and indicators must be published in a timely manner. Cities that fall within the distressed range should be further examined and solutions should be sought. The new system will facilitate this action by helping the state to not only acknowledge and predict fiscal stress, but to better link it with strategies that are suited for the specific type of fiscal stress in each locality. This will help the state to not only alleviate fiscal stress, but to prevent it before it occurs.

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Dept. of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics>Staff Paper Series

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-26

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