There is a bill pending in the Florida Legislature that could help residents compare their local government against others in the Sunshine State.
Called the Local Government Report Card act and sponsored by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, it has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.
The bill would require local governments to provide the Dept. of Financial Services with certain data that state officials would compile and publish beginning in January.
While the results would be available on the state Web site, the bill also indulges in an expensive bit of overkill by requiring it to be printed and mailed to every household containing a voter. The Senate should delete that provision.
The report card would include statistics and figures on government spending, government debt, the cost of government, public safety and education.
In addition, the Web site would post relevant information on each local government unit’s population, unemployment rate, educational attainment, revenue per resident and the number of special taxing districts.
Much of the information already is contained in annual audits each local government must file with the state. The bill continues that requirement but also specifies the local governments must break out the specific information and supply it separately.
Jacksonville’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is a wealth of information concerning local government finances and demographics. The mayor’s annual budget also contains helpful information.
Jacksonville, for example, had a 3 percent unemployment rate in 2018, according to the most recent audit. Business interests might want to compare that to the rate in other areas. The city also has reduced its debt and reduced the number of employees.
But how do those numbers compare to other cities?
Comparisons can be useful. When I covered City Hall as a newspaper reporter I began fashioning a yearly comparison of actual costs to homeowners in Jacksonville vs. about four other large Florida cities. This included not only property taxes but typical costs such as electricity rates, water and sewer rates, etc. Many readers said they found it interesting.
The city began including the same comparison in its annual budget, although I think it has dropped it in recent years.
Too much information is better than not enough. If the Local Government Report Card becomes a reality it should be a useful tool for business, government and those who merely are inquisitive.