Interestingly enough, Caleb just covered accrual vs cash here on Going Concern the other day. Not interestingly enough, as a subsection of the Georgia state government, the Georgia DOT’s only option is government accounting and that sure as hell ain’t accrual. Apparently Georgia governor Sonny Perdue is hip to this accounting trick that just can’t be tapped and is questioning whether or not the DOT has the legal authority to use accrual for multi-year state funding commitments.
The short answer, without being an authority on matters of accounting legality, is HELL no. They better stick to fund accounting like every other government agency but that comes with its own set of flaws. See also: 49 of 50 states facing massive budget deficits.
If you aren’t familiar with government accounting, let me make it very simple: in regular accounting, balance sheets balance. Companies shoot for assets to outweigh liabilities and if they don’t for an extended period of time, shareholders bail and the company goes under.
In government accounting, there is no real concept of “balance” and it’s all about expenditures and estimates of spending that have little connection with actual money coming in. Most government agencies would be crippled if they were forced to institute GAAP, even with the magic of government accounting we have already witnessed from the smallest municipality to entire sovereign nations.
Anyway, in 2008, an audit of DOT practices concluded that accrual accounting was a violation of Georgia’s constitution (and the sanctity of government accounting fortheloveofsweetbabyJesus) but DOT officials claim that sweating their questionable accounting methods prevents the state from funding important road projects.
Again, magic on paper, garbage in practical application. Accounting methods are not meant to turn insolvency into funding, they are merely options and their use should not be abused for users. Seriously.
Georgia voters will be trusted with resolving the issue. Better start reading some Advanced Accounting textbooks, Georgia voters, you’ll need them to pick the right door on this little game show.
Voters to weigh on DOT accounting system [Atlanta Business Chronicle]