Critical Priorities for Local Government: A Candid Survey of Local Government Officials and Agency Leaders

July 16, 2018

Route Fifty

Route Fifty’s research arm, Government Business Council (GBC), set out to identify what local government officials rank as the highest priorities when it comes to the future success of their communities. To that end, the organization collaborated with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and conducted an in-depth study on the priorities of city- and county-level government employees, including a large number of senior staff.
Key Takeaways include:
  • Local officials’ priorities mirror national fiscal and economic angst. Concerns about the job market, economic growth and financial stability seem to be a priority for most leaders. Earlier this year, Route Fifty found that only 35 percent of state and local government employees believed that their partners at other levels of government provided predictable financial support for their mission. National League of Cities’ City Fiscal Conditions Report from late last year also showed “the start of fiscal contraction in the municipal sector following several years of post-recession growth.” That may be reflected in the high prioritization of economic drivers and financial stability.
  • National infrastructure needs are felt acutely at the local level. As federal and state funds for infrastructure dwindle, infrastructure investment and maintenance has become increasingly burdensome for local governments. Despite being vital to economic development, infrastructure remains in a dire state across the country. In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated our nation’s infrastructure as a “D+” on a A to F scale. The report warned that “Deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future.” Career public officials are particularly concerned, as the signs of rot in our infrastructure are less visible to the average citizen. However, the prioritization of infrastructure should be a warning to all levels of government.
  • Champions of social programs, citizen-focused services, environmental resilience and equity must be vocal about their prioritization to local leaders. In a time of increasing inequity, our survey results show less of a focus on prioritizing citizen-focused services among local government officials. This comes at a time when Congress, the federal government, and some states have looked at new requirements—and rollbacks—for key programs that help the neediest people. The prioritization gap between the financial welfare of the government, economic development and support for policies that lift up those who may have been left behind by economic success should raise some red flags for those who believe such programs are vital to the nation’s future success. Education of officials on how these programs fuel economic vibrancy and sound fiscal conditions may be necessary for those that are concerned by these results.

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