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Underpinning the Pandemic, Another Malady: Municipal Finances

National  + Weekender  | 

COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn made a considerable impact in many areas of the U.S. economy during 2020, but most certainly in municipal budgets. Taking a look at the nation’s 75 largest municipalities, Truth in Accounting found that most could ill afford a large-scale health crisis.

The organization’s just-released 2021 Financial State of the Cities found that in fiscal 2019, just 13 of the largest cities had more assets than obligations, a key indicator of long-term financial health. The remaining 62 cities carried varying levels of debt, with many cities already billions of dollars in hock prior to the onset of the pandemic.

“The bottom line is that the majority of cities went into the pandemic in poor fiscal health and they will most likely come out of it even worse,” says Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of Truth in Accounting.

Even the fiscally healthiest cities are projected to lose millions of dollars in revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FSOC report. The uncertainty surrounding the health crisis makes it impossible to determine how much will be needed to maintain government services and benefits. However, these cities’ overall debt will most likely increase. 

Going into the pandemic, Irvine, CA had the best city finances in the U.S. with a $370.3-million surplus, according to Truth in Accounting’s analysis. If you were hypothetically to divide that figure by the number of Irvine taxpayers, each taxpayer’s share is $4,100. Other cities with relatively healthy finances include Charlotte, Plano, TX and Washington, DC.

Moving past the 13 cities with budget surpluses, the waters get progressively deeper and choppier. Many larger and older cities owe billions of dollars to unfunded retirement plans for public sector employees.

New York City claimed the dubious distinction of worst municipal finances in the U.S. for the fifth year in a row—and that was before the nation’s largest city became an early epicenter for the pandemic. Every taxpayer in the Big Apple would have to pay $68,200 in order for the city to retire all of its debt.

Chicago (second-worst in the nation), Truth in Accounting’s hometown, would need each taxpayer to pay $41,100. The average taxpayer burden across all 75 cities in the report works out to $7,355. 


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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and GlobeSt.com at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).

  • ◦Economy
  • ◦Financing