New Study Finds St. Louis Region’s Citizens Actually Pay Less Per Capita For Local Government Compared To Indianapolis Area
December 28, 2015
An Better Together study comparing government costs in the Indianapolis and St. Louis regions left out more than half a billion dollars in Indianapolis area public spending, incorrectly making government in the St. Louis area appear to be dramatically more costly, a new independent analysis has discovered.
Indianapolis government costs left out of the study by the pro-local government consolidation group Better Together included major spending for public health, sports venues and operations of many municipalities and townships. Together, those unmentioned costs total more than $588.9 million – or, more than half a billion dollars that was not counted by Better Together.
The discrepancies and gaps are reported in an analysis conducted by Dr. Mark Tranel, director of the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The analysis, with 119 pages of supporting documentation, was released Monday by CitiesStrong, a new alliance of former and current St. Louis County municipal leaders who support regional collaboration balanced with preserving local decision-making.
The new analysis by Dr. Tranel found the Better Together study left out several major areas of governmental spending in Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, which are referred to by the informal term "Unigov.”
“Data collected for the Public Policy Research Center (PPRC) case study indicate both discrepancies and gaps in the (Better Together) regional comparison’s Unigov data and analysis because some expenditure categories were included in one region but not in the other,” Dr. Tranel said in the new analysis. “The PPRC case study also includes contrary evidence found in other published reports.”
Dr. Tranel noted that the informal term Indianapolis “Unigov” can be confusing and not take into account the various components of local government such as capital improvements, sports venues, operations of smaller local governments and other government spending – and this incomplete information in the Better Together study is reflected as follows in the new analysis:
- Public health spending in the Indianapolis area: $226,026,699 (Better Together included public health funding in the St. Louis region, but not the corresponding amount for the Indianapolis area).
- Public spending on Indianapolis sports and convention venues: $138,776,422.
- The difference between Better Together's source material and the actual, final, official Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the "Unigov" of Indianapolis: $110,848,602. (The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is a standard used by governments across America.)
- The difference between Better Together's source material and the actual spending documented in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for smaller municipal governments in the Indianapolis area: $63,592,917.
- Spending by townships, a common political subdivision in the Indianapolis area: $49,668,531.
Grand total of Indianapolis public spending left out of the Better Together study: $588,913,171.
"In the course of collecting and analyzing data for the PPRC case study, it became apparent there were both discrepancies in the total cost of local government when the data were taken from a standardized source and gaps in the service areas accounted for in the (Better Together) regional comparison report," Dr. Tranel said.
Better Together based its earlier findings on the incomplete amount of $1,132,778,622 for government services in Indianapolis. When the correct, complete and official amounts are added, the resulting total for Indianapolis government activity is $1,721,691,833 - a difference of $588.9 million.
When the larger correct and complete number is divided by the 2013 estimated Census population for Marion County, Ind., of 928,281, the actual per capita cost of Indianapolis area local government activity is $1,854.70 - or $44.99 more than the per capita cost for the St. Louis region reported by Better Together, Tranel said.
The complete study and accompanying research appendix by Dr. Tranel may be reviewed here.
There was no explanation by Better Together for why the more complete and correct information was not included in its study. Better Together was described Dec. 21 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as "advocates for the consolidation of some St. Louis area governments."
CitiesStrong is a newly launched nonprofit alliance of former and current municipal officials from St. Louis County, with initial funding by the St. Louis County Municipal League. Members of CitiesStrong prefer regional collaboration among willing partners rather than forced consolidation and elimination of local decision-making by leaders who are closest to the people.
“Citizens deserve credible and complete research to better understand the relative costs when comparing the St. Louis region with other metropolitan areas, and CitiesStrong is committed to providing such complete research," said Bert Gates, an attorney and former Shrewsbury mayor who is president of the CitiesStrong Board of Directors.
Dr. Mark Tranel has served as Director of the Public Policy Research Center at UMSL since January 2003. During the past 15 years, Dr. Tranel has been the principal investigator or research project manager for more than 50 applied research projects in the metropolitan St. Louis area. Dr. Tranel's professional biography: