Fiscally Standardized Cities

2011 FiSC data has been released! A summary of 2011 developments is also available.

The Fiscally Standardized Cities (FiSC) database makes it possible to compare local government finances for 112 of the largest U.S. cities across more than 120 categories of revenues, expenditures, debt, and assets. The FiSC estimates are critical for making meaningful fiscal comparisons at the city level, because the delivery of public services is organized in very different ways in different cities. While some city governments provide a full array of public services for their residents and businesses, others share the responsibility with a variety of overlying independent governments. Fiscal comparisons across central city municipal governments alone can thus be highly misleading.

The FiSC database accounts for these differences across cities in government structure, making it possible to compare many aspects of local government finances for the nation’s largest cities. FiSCs are constructed by adding revenues and expenditures of each central city municipal government to a portion of the revenues and expenditures of overlying governments, including counties, independent school districts, and special districts. The allocations to FiSCs are estimates of the revenues collected from and services provided to central city residents and businesses by these overlying independent governments. Thus FiSCs provides a full picture of revenues raised from city residents and businesses and spending on their behalf, whether done by the city government or a separate overlying government.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy web-based FiSC database allows users to easily construct custom tables using a series of drop-down menus. A user can choose one or more central cities (or all 112), and one or more years between 1977 and 2011. For each central city, the database includes fiscal data for each FiSC and for each of its component governments – cities, counties, school districts, and special districts. Users can choose whether to display data in total dollar amounts or in per capita terms, and whether to display data in nominal dollars or adjusted for inflation. All user created tables can be displayed on the website or downloaded in an Excel spreadsheet.

The FiSC database can be used for many purposes. It can be used to compare property tax revenues in two cities, rank all cities by their school spending, investigate changes in public sector salaries over time, or see which cities are most reliant on state aid to fund their budgets.

The FiSC database was constructed using information from the individual unit of government files produced by the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The methodology used to construct FiSCs was developed by Howard Chernick (Hunter College, City University of New York), Adam Langley (Lincoln Institute) and Andrew Reschovsky (University of Wisconsin-Madison and Lincoln Institute). Adam Langley was responsible for the development of the web-based FiSC database.

When available, data for years after 2011 will be added to the database.