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Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances

While many people are familiar with the United States Census, which is taken every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, there are actually over 100 different surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year. In this educational series, SBB Research Group summarizes key information from Census.gov about these lesser-known—but highly important—surveys.


What Is The Annual Survey Of State And Local Government Finances?

The Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances is a survey sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau that collects and provides financial data on a national scale at both the state and local level and records the information using uniform definitions and procedures. It is the only source of comprehensive local government financial data collected nationwide.


Survey data collected reflects information on liabilities, assets, revenues, and expenses categorized by each government function. Examples of government functions surveyed include:

  • Police enforcement

  • Fire protection

  • Financial administration

  • Central staff services

  • Judicial and legal branches

  • Highways

  • Public welfare

  • Solid waste management

  • Parks and recreation

  • Water supply

  • Gas supply

  • Correctional facilities

  • Air transportation

  • Transit

  • Housing and community development

  • Health and hospitals

  • Cities

  • Dependent agencies


How The Annual Survey Of State And Local Government Finances Is Used

There are many consumers of the data collected from the Annual Survey of State of Local Government Finances, including Congress, state and local governments, federal agencies, education and research organizations, and the public. Examples of how these members may use the data include:

  • Fiscal policy and public research/analysis

  • Comparison studies of finances at the state and local government levels

  • Research for legislation

  • How to allocate specific federal grant funds

  • Generation of personal income figures for county and state regions

  • Creation of income accounts for the nation

  • Government estimates for the gross domestic product (GDP)


Frequency Of Survey

The Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances is collected every year, beginning in 1957. The way the data is surveyed may vary from year to year. In particular, the census is surveyed every five years (in the years ending in “2” and “7”). In the off years, a sample is used to collect data from both state and local governments. The sample population is determined every five years in years ending in “4” and “9.”


The survey year is calculated using government fiscal years, which spans from July 1 of the previous year to June 30 of the current year. For example, the survey year of 2020 spans government fiscal calendars that were from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.


How Survey Information Is Collected

The survey is conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The following sample timeline reflects the overall data collection process:

  • November Initial mail-out

  • December Due date reminder

  • January Follow-up mail-out #1

  • February Follow-up mail-out #2

  • April-May Telephone follow-up

There are three methods commonly used to collect the requested survey data: mail canvass, internet collection, and a central collection from state sources. The method may vary based upon state requirements and the type of government (state vs. local municipality).


In the event data collected is incomplete, the U.S. Census Bureau may attempt to collect data from other sources such as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs).


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