How Insights Fuel Confidence, Recovery

October 25, 2021 by Meredith Trimble

How Insights Fuel Confidence, Recovery

Knowing exactly how public funds are spent has always been important to members of the media and engaged community residents. What’s equally important is how easy it is to access that information. Just how much money comes into a state, city, or town, and where it goes from there is the truest measure of a jurisdiction’s policy priorities and resident services.

With new federal dollars coming from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other funding sources, transparency and accountability in government spending is even more critical.

Transparency in LA

In Los Angeles, California, the coronavirus pandemic brought business closures, plummeting tax revenues, and even some service cuts. This dramatically increased the public’s interest in the city’s financial recovery. L.A. Controller Ron Galperin needed a way to provide timely, accurate information around the city’s $11 billion budget. Easy access to detailed information would not only strengthen the public’s trust, but it would also help leaders chart a path to full financial recovery.

Los Angeles had a head start in this arena with its open data website that provided the public with city financial information including fund balances, revenues, expenditures, contracts, and payrolls. With this foundation in place, Galperin’s team built a new online dashboard, Inside L.A. City Finances, in just four weeks. This real-time data resource organizes financial data sets thematically, with narrative descriptions and visualizations that give the public an easy-to-understand, up-to-date look at every fund that keeps the city running as well as general fund balance, reserve balances, debt capacity, expenditures, and more.

“We wanted real-time information to be at the ready for people to use on a daily basis,” said Galperin. “With data that is updated daily, weekly, and monthly, this dashboard gives residents a better understanding of L.A.’s financial health and encourages even greater accountability for public dollars.”

Knowing how the city’s money is budgeted and where it is being spent improves resident confidence; something particularly important in a time of widespread uncertainty. The dashboard is also proving useful to council members, policymakers, and city staffers, who can track funds and target available dollars to the areas of greatest need.

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