Most states require local governments to submit financial data—typically on an annual basis—and at least 38 now present that local fiscal data on easily accessible online platforms to give the public access to important information on their cities, towns, and counties.
The various state websites, which promote transparency by allowing a glimpse into local government finances, offer a range of features. Some enable users to compare localities, for example, while others let people create graphic visualizations of historical trends on local taxes and spending.
Among the states with such dashboards, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington provide assessments of local governments’ fiscal health using financial indicators or overall scores to bring additional insights. For example:
- The Office of the New York State Comptroller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System includes fiscal scores for local governments for at least the previous three years that shed light on each entity’s finances. The scores represent composite measures based on indicators in categories such as year-end fund balance, operating deficits, and cash position. Based on the scores, the comptroller’s office identifies the local governments susceptible to or already under fiscal stress. Users can view each indicator over time and make comparisons among localities within the state.
- The Michigan Department of Treasury’s Community Financial Dashboard calculates a set of fiscal indicators, including the strength of a local government’s savings and the size of its unfunded pension liability. To provide context, the dashboard ranks each municipality’s performance against other governments of the same type.
In another approach, Louisiana maintains a list of “fiscally distressed municipalities” that its legislative auditor’s office reports may not be able to continue to provide basic services to residents in the near future because of financial issues.
Previous research by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that states that monitor the fiscal health of local governments may be better prepared to address financial problems before they become unmanageable. Having the information readily available to the public improves transparency and accountability.
Publishing local fiscal data online can help to elevate discourse on budgets and local priorities by making the information easily accessible. But that benefit often can be reduced by what can be considerable time lags in posting data.
For example, the steep and sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fiscal stability of cities and counties likely will not show up on these websites for at least a year. Still, the data do provide valuable information on the situation that local governments were in as they headed into the 2020 recession and can help states understand which localities might be particularly vulnerable to fiscal problems.
Table 1 provides links to the local fiscal data webpages for each of the states that now maintain such sites.
Data Dashboards Offer Glimpse into Fiscal Health of Local Governments
Platforms, presentation, and analysis vary by state
|State||Website||Managing entity||Municipality||County||Special district|
|Alaska||Financials (Community Status Report) *||Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development||✓||✓|
|Arizona||Arizona Financial Transparency Portal||General Accounting Office||✓||✓|
|Arkansas||Legislative Audits||Legislative audit||✓||✓||✓|
|California||Local Government Financial Data||State controller||✓||✓||✓|
|California||Local Government High-Risk Dashboard||State auditor||✓|
|Colorado||Local Government Financial Dashboard||Department of Local Affairs||✓||✓|
|Colorado||Active Colorado Local Government Finances||Department of Local Affairs||✓||✓||✓|
|Connecticut||Municipal Benchmarking Application||Office of Policy & Management||✓|
|Connecticut||Municipal Fiscal Indicators||Office of Policy & Management||✓|
|Florida||Local Government Financial Reporting||Chief financial officer||✓||✓||✓|
|Florida||Auditor General Reports||Auditor general||✓||✓||✓|
|Georgia||Tax and Expenditure Data Center||The Georgia General Assembly in partnership with Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia||✓||✓||✓|
|Illinois||Local Government Warehouse||State comptroller||✓||✓||✓|
|Indiana||Report Builder: Annual Financial Report†||State of Indiana in partnership with Indiana University's Indiana Business Research Center||✓||✓||✓|
|Iowa||Adopted City Budget Documents||Department of Management||✓|
|Iowa||County Budgets & Annual Financial Reports||Department of Management||✓|
|Kansas||Municipal Audits||Department of Administration||✓||✓||✓|
|Louisiana||Local Government Financials||Legislative auditor||✓||✓||✓|
|Maine||Annual Audit Reports||Office of State Auditor||✓||✓|
|Maryland||Local Government Budgets||State archives||✓|
|Massachusetts||Community Comparison Report||Department of Revenue, Division of Local Services||✓|
|Massachusetts||Municipal Finance Trend Dashboard||Department of Revenue, Division of Local Services||✓|
|Michigan||Community Financial Dashboard||Department of Treasury||✓||✓|
|Minnesota||Comparison Tools||Office of State Auditor||✓||✓|
|Mississippi||Audit Reports||Office of State Auditor||✓||✓|
|Missouri||Political Subdivision Financial Reports||Office of State Auditor||✓||✓||✓|
|Montana||Local Government Annual Summarized Financial Information||Department of Administration||✓||✓|
|Nebraska||Audit Data Query||Auditor of Public Accounts||✓||✓||✓|
|New Jersey||Data Book‡||Rutgers University, Center for Government Services||✓||✓|
|New York||Fiscal Stress Monitoring System||State comptroller||✓||✓|
|North Carolina||County and Municipal Fiscal Analysis||Department of State Treasurer||✓||✓|
|Ohio||Financial Health Indicators||Auditor of State||✓||✓|
|Oklahoma||Local Government Audits||Office of the State Auditor and Inspector, Oklahoma State Auditor||✓||✓|
|Oregon||Local Government Audit Report Search||Secretary of State||✓||✓||✓|
|Pennsylvania||Municipal Statistics||Department of Community & Economic Development||✓||✓||✓|
|Rhode Island||Municipal Transparency Portal||Department of Revenue, Division of Municipal Finance||✓|
|South Carolina||Local Government Finance Report||Revenue & Fiscal Affairs Office||✓|
|South Dakota||Reports||Department of Legislative Audit||✓||✓||✓|
|Tennessee||Local Government Audit||Comptroller of the Treasury||✓||✓||✓|
|Texas||Transparency: Local Government||Comptroller of Public Accounts||✓||✓||✓|
|Utah||Local and State Government Reports||Office of the State Auditor||✓||✓||✓|
|Virginia||Commonwealth Data Point Local Government Data||Auditor of Public Accounts||✓||✓|
|Virginia||Local Government Reports||Auditor of Public Accounts||✓||✓||✓|
|Washington||Local Government Financial Reporting System||Office of State Auditor||✓||✓||✓|
|Washington||Local Government Financial Intelligence Tool||Office of State Auditor||✓||✓||✓|
|Wisconsin||Local Government Dashboard||Department of Revenue||✓||✓|
Note: States that do fiscal health assessments provide financial indicators or overall scores to help users understand local governments’ fiscal health.
* For Alaska, boroughs are county equivalents.
† Participating state agencies include the Department of Local Government Finance, the State Board of Accounts, the Indiana Education Employment Relations Board, the Indiana Gaming Commission and the State Auditor.
‡ This data is publicly available but users must create an account to access it.
Jeff Chapman is a director and Katy Ascanio is an associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ state fiscal health project.