The Business of Government by Jeff Porter


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Jeff Porter presents "Covering Government Incentives for Economic Development," part of the free, daylong workshop, "Uncovering the Best Local Businesses," which is geared toward community and local journalists on a budget.

For more information about free training for business journalists, please visit

Published in: Career, Business, News & Politics
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The Business of Government by Jeff Porter

  1. 1. Uncovering good stories in local governmentApril 12, 2013Jeff PorterSpecial Projects DirectorAssociation of Health Care Journalistsjeff@healthjournalism.orgPhoto credit: Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune
  2. 2. }  Government vendors
  3. 3. }  Taxes/fees businesses pay (or don’t)
  4. 4. }  InfrastructureMapled from Flickr
  5. 5. }  Utilities
  6. 6. }  Regulation/inspection/licensure
  7. 7. • Three examples:– Budgets– Contracts– Taxes
  8. 8. }  Budgets: At least three years to see how well the government projects itsrevenues and expenses. Major changes by themselves can be stories.}  Purchasing and bid rules. You need those to see the government is followingits own rules when awarding contracts.}  Request for proposals. These are the equivalent of bids, but are much looserand generally cover architectural, engineering and consulting services. This isan easy area for officials to favor friends.}  Get the list of all vendors who sold goods and services to the localgovernment in the past three years. Get the total amount bought from eachvendor and the detail, preferably in a database.}  Financial disclosure reports. Get the financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest reports required of officials.}  BONUS: Tax lists – biggest taxpayers, biggest tax delinquents(From IRE Journal, November/December 2003)
  9. 9. }  More than normal increase or decrease.}  Patterns over time – are expenditures orrevenues sinking or rising?}  Look back in time: How well do “projected”budget items match with actual revenue/expenditure?}  How does this impact business? Taxes or feesmight go up. Vendors might gain or losebusiness.
  10. 10. }  Documents to know:◦  Actual contracts◦  Totals spent◦  Billing◦  Check register (so to speak)◦  Bids and accompanying documents
  11. 11. }  Example: Wireless phone expenses}  Began with curiosity: “I began to wonder: Howmuch can all these cell phones costtaxpayers?”}  Records requested – person, position, phonenumber, amounts spent}  Looked at big biggest bills, obtained detailedrecords}  Result: High impact story profiling abuse ofcell phones and lax of oversight.(Mike Mansur, Kansas City Star, in IRE Journal)JonJon2k8 from Flickr
  12. 12. }  Profile the top local government contractors inyour locale.}  Which local government departments spent mostwith vendors, and how?}  How much campaign cash from those associatedwith local contractors to local officials?}  Compare documents – payments to businessesvs. work performed.}  Is the contractor inspected by local, state orfederal agencies (OSHA, Labor, Health, Code)?What’s the outcome?
  13. 13. }  What businesses are the biggest taxpayers inyour county or city? How are they doing?}  What businesses are the biggest taxdelinquents? Any government contracts onthe list?}  Who are the big tax-exempt employers? Lookat their 990s for financial status.}  Check out state and federal tax liens – filedwith the circuit clerk’s office. These can besigns of trouble for a local business.JonLoach from Flickr
  14. 14. }  State tax collection}  Internal Revenue Service Tax}  U.S. Census Bureau governments}  Arkansas Public Services Commission TaxDivision:}  Tax Policy
  15. 15. Jeff PorterSpecial Projects DirectorAssociation of Health Care Journalistsjeff@healthjournalism.org573-884-5477Thanks for coming!