Critical Condition: Saving America's Cities
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The big city budget tricks you don't hear about

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City budget tricks you don't hear about

You've heard the tale of the health care and pension costs that American cities will be digging out from forever. Add a crime-ridden downtown, leaky sewer and crumbling roadway to the picture of urban America. But American cities are, by and large, recovering from the crisis. It's not all Detroit. In fact, among the roughly 17,000 municipalities covered by Standard & Poor's, most are performing well. In the third quarter, there were 280 state and local upgrades made by S&P and 83 downgrades, and local upgrades, specifically, have been the most prominent among positive ratings changes.

Cities are being conservative with assumptions even amid signs of recovery, including increases in property tax and sales tax base. Many are still cutting losses—as well as job and programs—as they seek to eke out revenue gains and stay ahead of long-term issues that tripped them up over the past decade.

When you look into the details of the latest big city budget documents, you can get a good sense for the full range of issue's city financial managers face. The "blocking and tackling" going on day to day surface in some surprising ways although often far removed from the big ticket pension burden and Detroit bankruptcy headlines that dominate.

By Eric Rosenbaum,
Posted 22 Nov. 2013

Dimitri Otis | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images