Taxpayer receipts can increase transparency to help rebuild resident trust in local government
We expect a receipt for everyday purchases, so why not one for taxes? Balancing Act developed a tool that allows residents to see a customized list, or “receipt,” of how their taxes are divvied up among different government programs and services. Balancing Act President Chris Adams discusses the tool and the increasing trend of taxpayer receipts for local governments in our latest webinar.
But first, Polco’s Vice President of Customer Experience, Meghan Ruble, presents data by National Research Center (NRC) at Polco on declining trust in local government. She shares how taxpayer receipts can help rebuild lost trust through transparency.
Plus, hear real-world examples of how taxpayer receipts work in action. Hunter Anderson, Management and Budget Analyst for the City of Virginia Beach, Virginia, shares his experience using Balancing Act’s Taxpayer Receipt tool.
Declining Trust in Local Government
Data from NRC show that resident confidence in local government decreased from 56% to 48% from 2020 to 2022. Lack of trust makes it difficult for local governments to earn support on important tax initiatives and other policies.
Ruble says taxpayer receipts help base tax-related conversations in factual understanding. She adds a receipt lets residents see how their taxes affect them on a personal level, which usually isn't clear.
Increasing Transparency, Decreasing Polarization
Transparency in local government is important, but the type of transparency matters.
Adams says taxpayer transparency exists in the US, but it's usually difficult to understand. Many cities publicly release their budget book. But the budgets are dense, jargon-ridden, and confusing for the average resident.
“Unless [your] full-time job and professional training is to understand budgets... it probably doesn’t mean too much for you,” Adams said.
Online tools like a taxpayer receipt show residents how their money is spent in an understandable way. Often residents will find out certain programs actually receive very little government funding.
How Virginia Beach Uses Taxpayer Receipts
Since 2018, the City of Virginia Beach has used Balancing Act’s Taxpayer Receipt to show residents how their property taxes and automobile values contribute to the City’s general fund.
Anderson says the City has two distinct goals for budgeting. The first goal is to increase transparency and citizen engagement. The second goal is to focus budget decisions on long-term outcomes, not just short-term fixes.
“For us, this taxpayer receipt is the best gateway that we could possibly provide to get [residents] on those deeper and more meaningful conversations,” Anderson said.