budget research paper


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Government Budget Paper
You are required to select a local government (preferred) or state government and analyze their budget based on actual budget documents. They are either available on the state/local government website or you may want to obtain a hard copy of the budget from the state /local budget office.

The paper should include two major sections:

First Section: includes introduction, budget process and format.

Second Section: includes expenditure and revenue trends, managerial and policy conclusions and recommendations.

Detailed guidelines will be provided in the Assignments section of the course, along with a sample of a budget project analysis for your reference.

The paper must be submitted in the following parts by their respective deadlines (see weekly calendar).

Selection of local government
Draft of the first section (overview and budget process/format section)
Draft of the second section (expenditure and revenue trends section)
Final paper submission

A. Assignment
Each student will analyze the budget and budgetary trends for a local government (city or county government). The paper will be formatted as follows:

Overview and budget process and format
Expenditure and revenue trends
Conclusion and Recommendation
Below are the components of the project(see syllabus for due dates):

Selection of government
Draft of the first section (overview and budget process/format section)
Draft of the second section (expenditure and revenue trends section)
Final Paper
The primary source of data will be the budget of the government that you are analyzing. You may be able to get copies of these from the government. Many governments now also have budget documents posted on their Web site. You may also want to review Census data for socio-demographic information about the area. Finally, you might search newspaper indexes to find information on major recent budget issues.

If you work with one or two partners, you may divide the project up in a number of different ways. Generally, all of you will receive the same grade for the project. However, it is possible that grades will vary if one member has not performed adequately, or if one student’s performance is exemplary.

There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to this project. Each government is different, so the focus of the analyses will vary somewhat. The following sections are intended to provide guidelines for you to consider, but your paper may be quite different from this. You are expected to organize the report in the manner best suited to the entity you are studying.

B. Overview and Budget Process/Format
The paper should be written as if you were briefing a new budget director for this government. The new director is moving here from another part of the country, and knows very little about the area or the budget issues. This section should first include a brief overview of the state or locality, including factors/trends that may affect the budget (e.g., location, population, income levels, primary types of employment, etc.)

This section should also address the budget process and the format of the budget. You may include the following, for example:

Is the budget annual or biannual?
What is the fiscal year?
Brief description of the process
Form of government (e.g., a city could be operated by a council-manager, mayor-council, or commission form)
Elected officials (number and term of legislators, executive)
Do citizens appear to play any role in the budget process?
What budget format is used?
Does the executive (e.g., Mayor or Governor) have veto authority?
Does the budget include performance information? If so, does it appear to be primarily related to workload/activities, or results/outcomes?
Does the budget include forecasts for future years, and/or data for prior years?
To what extent do you find the budget document to be a readable communication tool?
What type of budget information, if any, is included on the government’s web site?
C. Expenditure and Revenue Trends
This section will analyze major sources of expenditures and revenues, as well as trends over time. For trends, use the most current budget year available as well as one prior year (most budgets will include data for at least one or two prior years; it will probably be most interesting to use the oldest year and the most recent year for comparison). For the “older” comparison year, you can use either actual or budgeted revenues and expenditures.

Use tables or graphs to help display key information. You should have at least one table for expenditures and one table for revenues, using the same format as the first homework assignment. Some jurisdictions may have a large number of departments and/or revenue sources, so it may be helpful to aggregate some data in your tables (for example, in an expenditure table, you could list the largest departments, then combine the other departments into an “other” category). You may want to show the breakdown of expenditures in different ways, such as the following example:

Table 1

City of Somewhere

2014-2015 Expenditures

2014 Actual

2015 Budget

Change

Amount

% of Total

Amount

% of Total

$ Change

% Change

Expenditures by Department

Personnel

Executive

Public Safety

Other Depts.

Total

Exp. By Fund

General

Utilities

Roads

Total

Exp. By Category

Personnel

Equipment

Other Non-Personnel

Capital

Total

Following are the major questions you should answer regarding expenditures:

What is the total expenditure budget?
It is often helpful to relate this to something else to give the reader some perspective – e.g., how much is this per capita (total budget divided by population)?
Where does the money go?
Which are the largest departments/activities?
Which are the largest funds? (this will require breaking down the total budget by fund).
What are the major sources of growth or decline over this period?
If the budget has increased by $10 million over the past two years, you should be able to explain where most of the increased expenditures have occurred (your tables will tell you which areas have experienced the most change; the message at the beginning of the budget, or detailed discussion within the budget document, may help explain the reasons for the change).
These are the general questions regarding the revenue structure and trends:

Where does the money come from?
What are the primary sources of revenue? (e.g., property tax, sales tax, etc.)
See the note above about aggregating revenue sources in the table if necessary
How much have total revenues changed over this period?
Which revenue sources have experienced the most change over this period? To the extent possible, attempt to explain why the changes occurred.
For major tax sources, try to provide detail on the tax rates, and any pertinent changes in the tax base or rate over the period studied.
D. Conclusion and Recommendation
This section should draw conclusions about the overall fiscal health and future outlook for this government, based on your analysis. Do they appear to be in good shape? Is there structural balance between revenues and expenditures? If they are experiencing fiscal stress, how have they responded to it (e.g., service level reductions, increased tax rates and/or user fees, etc.)? What are the major issues facing this organization in the near future? What effects has the recession had, and/or what difficulties might it present soon? What are the key things the new budget director needs to know?

E. General Notes for the Analysis
In your analysis, start with the numbers. Prepare the tables before you begin writing the narrative about revenue and expenditure trends. The text should follow from the tables.
Look at the BIG PICTURE! Do not spend time discussing a change in a department that is only 1% of the budget.
Document what you say with supporting numbers. For example, do NOT say, “the budget has grown a lot,” DO say, “the budget has grown 5% over this period.”
Do not force the reader to look at and interpret the tables and charts. You need to tell the reader the key points from the table. One way to do this is to pretend that you will not be including the table in the paper, so you have to write as if it will not be there. The tables are there only as additional information, to support your statements and analysis.
Label and title your tables and charts.
Include totals in your tables.
Think about what the numbers show. Do your conclusions seem logical? If not, verify that the data and formulas in your spreadsheets are correct.

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