Understanding Local Public Finance in California (and Everywhere Else)

Article excerpt

Guide to Local Government Finance in California

By Michael Multari, Michael Coleman, Kenneth Hampian, and Bill Statler

Solano Press Books

2012, 336 pages, $90

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The authors of the Guide to Local Government Finance in California sought to create a book for "those who are interested in better understanding and navigating the complexity of California local public finance," and their approach makes the volume accessible to a wide range of readers. The book provides a thorough, basic overview, a complete guide that provides plenty of detail. Multari, Coleman, Hampian, and Statler bring an expository tone to many of the most zippy buzz words and processes, and they do so without missing the operative details that make such a book useful for public finance officers. Guide to Local Government Finance in California is organized in five parts: an introduction and overview; a section on general, special revenue, and enterprise funds; the practice of budgeting and fiscal policy; economic development and municipal finance; and the road to reform. Much of the information is useful not just to students of public finance in California, but to students of public finance throughout the United States.

COVERING THE BASICS

The book starts at a basic level in the first few chapters, providing solid definitions of the vocabulary needed to comprehend the financial dealings of local and state government. The chapters on general funds and special revenue funds are detailed, ensuring that readers fully understand how and why they work. The authors make a solid effort not to miss any of the important details--for example, a side note titled "Confusing Terminology" explains how the generally accepted accounting principles fund categories are similar, but not identical, to those used in the Controller's Financial Transactions Reports. Such distinctions make this guide especially useful and easy to use.

By listing the counties and towns that use different practices for transportation sales taxes or binding aribitration, the book makes relevant reading faster and easier for finance officers with specific geographic interests. The authors present tax allocation figures with graphics and flow charts, showing how tax dollars are distributed to different accounts and funds. These breakdowns are insightful, contributing to a more holistic understanding of government cash flow.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS

The chapters on capital improvements, investing, and economic development provide a thorough background on these subjects. …