Report says localities need long-term budget plans

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Local governments and school districts throughout New York State should adopt long-term financial planning as a core element of their budgeting practices, according to a report issued today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.

A report issued today by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, citing a loss of federal and state aid among the financial challenges facing local governments, “only highlights the urgent need for counties, municipalities and school districts to share information on their long-term spending and revenue trends with the public,” said E.J. McMahon, Empire Center senior fellow and author of the report.

McMahon compared most current local budgets, which include past results but no projections looking further than a year ahead, to “driving your car down a rural highway at 65 mph in the steadily gathering dusk of a moonless night, with nothing more to guide you than your parking lights.”

“While localities are more fiscally stressed than ever, very few are producing long-term projections that would document the extent of their budget problems,” McMahon said.

In fact, the report found that only five of the state’s 80 largest counties, municipalities and school districts issue long-term forecasts as part of their budgets. Only one of those governments, the city of Yonkers, was not forced into long-term planning by a state financial control board. Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano recently implemented four-year budget projects on a voluntary basis.

The report notes that long-term planning is advocated by both Comptroller DiNapoli and the state Board of Regents, in addition to many government finance experts.

“Long-term planning won’t, by itself, solve fiscal problems or guarantee better results,” the Empire Center report concludes. “However, by requiring local officials to consider the long-term impacts of their short-term decisions, it will promote more responsible fiscal behavior. Beyond the numbers, it can also provide a vehicle for establishing performance goals and objectives, and for measuring a government’s progress in meeting them.”