We are about to experience a sea change in how government is financed, what gets financed and the roles of the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors in the delivery of products and services historically delivered by government.

I recently had the opportunity to have breakfast with Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. He told me how the people of Oklahoma City have supported a special tax assessment with a limited seven year life, three different times in the past two decades to pay for things that they knew they needed. Literally every crumbing school that needed to be replaced or repaired was addressed through this assessment and fast. Recently, citizens wanted to take down an old highway that cut through the city and remake the land around it so they charged themselves a limited time, special fee to make sure it got done. This is in conservative Oklahoma, with a robust business community and Republican Mayor.

Clearly, Americans are not unconditionally ‘anti-tax’ or ‘anti-government’, however they do often seem to be frustrated and to lack confidence in the current ways we finance, manage and deliver public resources and services. My conversation with Mayor Cornett, together with our fast shrinking government budgets and the limits of “doing more with less”, has convinced me that we are about to experience a sea change in how government is financed, what gets financed and the roles of the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors in the delivery of products and services historically delivered by government.

Living Cities is about to embark on an effort to identify innovative approaches to the financing challenges that cities face that may point the way toward 21st century models of delivering and financing city services that make them competitive in the global economy, improve the quality of life of residents and provide opportunities for low income people who live there. Specifically, we are looking for approaches that are:

  • Changing Who Pays for What – Are any cities adopting promising new approaches to paying for services, such as:

    • raising taxes dedicated to a particular service or function,
    • better targeting fees on particular users of services within the city (e.g., variations on BIDs or other forms of geographically targeted revenue collection), or
    • expanding the universe of who contributes to revenue streams (e.g., suburban commuters, tax-exempt non-profit institutions)
  • Rethinking the Role of the Private or Public Sector Partners – Are cities:

    • rethinking ‘shared services’ or identifying those ‘core services’ that it must finance itself, and jointly financing other services with other jurisdictions,
    • adopting a more ‘distributed leadership’ model where the city might provide some services or functions directly but only orchestrates the delivery of other services or functions by the private and/ or philanthropic sectors,
    • finding creative ways to use public resource streams to leverage private-sector loans, or
    • developing new ways of monetizing city assets
  • Other Areas of Innovation – Are cities:

    • creating new hybrid models that blend capital and operating budgets,
    • incentivizing city agencies to operate more efficiently, create surplus’ and innovate to deliver more benefits to citizens
    • utilizing new technological capabilities to rethink how services and infrastructure are financed?

We will be sharing what we learn with practitioners and city leaders through the Project on Municipal Innovation, a partnership with Harvard’s Ash Institute at the Kennedy School for Government and more broadly through a series of forums, reports, and blog posts. Stay connected with Living Cities on Twitter and by signing up for our newsletter to make sure you receive all the latest news.