MPA 644 - Public Budgeting and Financial Administration

Course Syllabus

Instructor Information | Course Information | Course Materials

Course Activities and Design | Grading and Evaluation | Course Policies

Instructor Information

Instructor: Jason Stilwell, Ph.D.

Contact Information:


Daytime Phone Number: (303) 902-3190 (for emergency use only)

Instructor Accessibility: Please do not hesitate to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I can also be reached at the phone number above if you are unable to access e-mail. If you ask me to call you back, please include days and times best to call you, along with your full name and a phone number.

E-mail will be responded to as promptly as possible, usually within twenty-four hours from Monday-Friday. Weekend response times may be longer. Please use the above e-mail address to contact me unless otherwise instructed. This helps keep me organized and responding to you as quickly as possible. Please put the appropriate subject of your message in the subject line (e.g., Exam question; discussion grading question).

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Course Information

Course Title: Public Budgeting and Financial Administration

Course Description: The ability of public officials to manage budgets, distribute resources and predict costs is crucial to a community's well-being. This course gives students a solid grounding in the concepts, terminology and techniques in the art and science of public sector budgeting and financial administration. Students use real world examples to analyze various approaches to public budgeting and revenue planning, evaluate and problem solve fiscal activities in governmental units, and gain "hands-on" budget preparation and presentation experience.

Credit Hours: This course carries 3 semester credits. You can normally expect to put in 8-10 hours per week on this course.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.

Schedule: The course is organized into eight course meetings with three sessions per night. Each session will be approximately one hour in length. During Spring 2011, the class meets on Thursday nights from 6:00 to 9:45 p.m. The final fifteen minutes of the course will be set aside for discussion of assignments.

My approach: : I have much respect for graduate students in this program. Most of you are undertaking this program with a strong desire to increase your knowledge and better your self either in terms of your career, experience, or edification and are doing so while balancing many work and family pressures. I respect your efforts and encourage you to stick with it in those times you wonder why you should - you will be greatly rewarded at the end with a graduate degree and an education that you earned and will keep forever.

On the other hand, as graduate students I have high academic expectations of you. I believe graduate school, besides learning the substance of the course material, is designed to have the students become expert communicators (both orally and in writing) and qualified researchers. My focus is to help you achieve these high standards; I will provide constructive criticism and comments, will not "zing" you with pop-quizzes on micro-details and will focus on the theory and structure of the public policy process and your ability to discuss, research, and write about these theories and concepts.

Student Outcomes:

This course is an opportunity for students to combine the major public sector fiscal and budget theoretical perspectives with a comprehensive understanding of practices, processes, and actors involved in fiscal and budget development and administration.

The student successfully completing this course should be able to:

  1. Understand steps involved and theories associated with managing budgets, distributing resources, and predicting costs.
  2. Gain an understanding of a variety of current budgetary and fiscal administration issues and controversies.
  3. Describe and explain the theoretical foundations of public budgeting in the United States; exhibit an understanding of the political, legal, economic, social and cultural factors influencing budgets and budget making in America.
  4. Describe and explain the technical nature of public budgeting in the United States, including the timetable and rules of the process typical at the three levels of government.
  5. Explain and compare the political aspects of budgeting with rational methods of resource allocation in the United States.
  6. Navigate spreadsheet software (Microsoft Excel©) and conduct a comparative analyses typical of budget preparation and evaluation in United States governments.
  7. Explain the major components of a financial management system as typically exhibited in the public sector.
  8. Read academic and technical literature to gain an understanding of important themes and empirical findings.
  9. Demonstrate increased knowledge of the politics of public budgeting, major budget formats and lessons learned about implementing them, typical parts of the budget process and typical players involved in the budget process and their roles, some basic concepts for preparing a budget request, strategies to achieve budget success, and budget processes and politics of familiar organizations.

Students will learn:

  1. The fundamental principles of public finance economics,
  2. What the stages of the budget cycle are and how the political environment shapes the fiscal policy process,
  3. How government records and reports financial transactions, and how financial information is used in the budgeting process,
  4. About the various budget structures and practices used in federal, state and local governments in the U.S.,
  5. What have been the major budget reform efforts in the U.S, what approaches do they advocate and why, and how their formats differ from traditional budgeting,
  6. How to conduct simple cost estimation using Microsoft Excel©,
  7. The methods and practices used for operating and capital budget preparation,
  8. The fundamentals of debt and cash management,
  9. What revenue sources are available to finance government and how to evaluate revenue policy, and
  10. What are the problems and issues associated with budgeting in a fragmented and multi-layered governmental system?

Students learning objectives for the course are to:

  1. Develop an understanding of the political context of budget development and implementation at the federal, state, and local levels;
  2. Develop a working knowledge of the California budget process, budget concepts, and budget terminology;
  3. Learn some basic skills in budget development, analysis, and implementation – including benchmarking, logic models, grant preparation, and decremental budgeting (including zero-base budgeting);
  4. Understand the role of budgets in the life of a state or local agency or department;
  5. Gain an understanding of budgets as tools for accountability;
  6. Develop some basic skills in the selection and use of performance measures in the context of performance budgeting; and improve applied written and oral communication skills, including the presentation of budgetary information.
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Course Materials

Required Textbooks:

textbook image The Politics of Public Budgeting, 6th Edition, 2010. Irene S. Rubin; ISBN: 978-1-60426-461-6, CQ Press.

Public budgeting is inherently political: too often, short-term partisan goals overrun long-term public interest. By presenting federal, state, and local budgeting within a clear, comparative framework, Rubin’s classic text focuses on the issues of federalism and the political jockeying that influences all governmental budgets.

Updated throughout to account for recent issues in budgeting, the sixth edition includes coverage of the Alternative Minimum Tax controversy, mayoral vetoes, state legislatures role in the budgeting process, conflicts between inspectors general and executives, PART evaluations, and more. In addition, Rubin now pays even greater attention to budgeting within state and local systems, incorporating examples from across the nation and better preparing students for future careers at all levels of government. Analyzing each strand of the decision-making process, Rubin shows the extraordinary coordination involved in passing a budget and achieving accountability.

textbook image Budget Tools, 1st Edition, 2009. Greg C. Chen, Dall W. Forsythe, Lynne A. Weikart, and Daniel W. Williams; ISBN: 978-0-87289-539-3, CQ Press.

This unique supplement and workbook with a companion CD, perforated pages, and an array of exercises gives students the opportunity to master the application of budgeting concepts. While theory plays an important role in any budgeting course, students need the ability to translate theory into practice and to feel comfortable reading, analyzing, and creating budgets. Focusing on budgeting at all levels of government, as well as at non-profits, the authors improve students spreadsheet literacy while having them work with real budgeting data. Exercises and problems, class-tested and proven to work, cover a range of topics and skills such as historical analysis, forecasting, cost analysis, pension analysis, performance-based budgeting, debt structure and management, cash flow estimates and variance analysis, classifying and categorizing data, as well as memo writing and multi-year planning.

Your primary resource is the Rubin text. Be sure you have the 6th edition. I recommend you spend some time looking over the text to see how it is laid out. Your primary source for homework assignments is the Chen text. As you have undoubtedly noticed there is a lot of reading and much information to absorb in graduate school. My suggestion is to read the textbooks thoroughly. As we work our way through the course, we will build on the concepts discussed in the text. If you have questions, please ask me about them. One recommendation on how to be successful in this course is to READ THE TEXTS.

Textbook Web Sites:

web site icon Rubin Textbook. The website features an overview of the text.

Chen Workbook. The website features an overview of the workbook.

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Course Activities and Design

Course Outline:
The course is divided into 24 one-hour units (3 per evening) with the remainder of each evening's class being devoted to discussion of assignments. The goal of this session structure is to add variety and breadth to the discussion of the public budgeting and finance. There will generally be three types of sessions: 1) discussion of readings and concepts 2) lecture of key concepts, and 3) group assignments.

Student Responsibilities:

Failure to attend class regularly, lack of preparation for class, or lack of participation in class exercises undoubtedly will detract from student understanding of the material and subsequent student performance on course requirements.

Participation is Critical:
A significant portion of your course grade will be based on your participation each evening. You will be familiar with the text and grading, in part, will be based on your ability to relate the topics back to the concepts discussed in the text and other course materials. An MPA program such as this with night and weekend scheduled classes tends to draw practitioners. As such the class greatly benefits from our collective insights and experiences into the practical side of the policy process.

Communications About Difficulties/Absences:
It is your responsibility to contact me in a timely manner if you become ill, or have scheduling or computer problems that would keep you from participating in the course.


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Grading and Evaluation

Summary of Grading: Each class builds on the readings assigned for the evening and will include lecture and in-class exercise components. Evaluation includes a combination of assessments, individual exercises, and group assignments.

There will be three 10 questions quizzes to be completed and discussed in class. Each quiz will cover a key concept subject area of public budgeting and finance. The quiz will be based on the Rubin and Chen readings and lecture material. Each quiz may include a combination of multiple choice, true false, and short answer questions. There is a 15 minute time limit for completing each quiz. On the multiple choice questions, be sure to pick the best answer from those available. Also, be sure to answer the complete question on the short answer questions.

The quizzes require you to demonstrate your understanding of the terms, concepts, and information presented in the textbooks and lectures. Questions for the quizzes will come from information presented in the Rubin textbook, Chen textbook, and lectures.

Spreadsheet Analyses
The Chen textbook includes a CD with chapter homework assignments. These assignments contain guided examples, data sets, and spreadsheet-based exercises covering a range of topics and skills giving students hands-on opportunity to master the application of budgeting concepts. Students are expected to complete the assigned chapter’s homework prior to discussion of that topic in class.

Writing Assignments
There will be brief writing assignments. These one to two type-written pages will be in response to one of four presented questions. The instructor will present the assignment that includes four questions and the student will be required to prepare a written response to one of the questions to be completed before the topic is discussed in class.

I will grade these writing assignments for content and the proper use of grammar. It is important you provide content to support your assertions. As graduate students you should strive to have a strong grasp of English grammar and an ability to gather and synthesize research. Part of a complete education is improving your communication skills. Strong writing skills are a positive byproduct of a college education and something that distinguishes you from others.

1. Length:  More than one and less than two pages in length [Font size 10 or 12; space and a half; 1" margins]

2. Grammar: correct use of grammar, referencing, punctuation, and spelling.

3. Format: at the top of the page put your name, date, MPA 644, the topic, and follow this with the question you are responding to.

4. Content: relevance of answer, depth of answer, and clarity of answer.

Group Exercises
Budgeting is a subject that you really learn by “doing.” Therefore, there are a number of practical exercises from the text and other sources that you will be required to complete and submit. These exercises will be graded on a “credit/no credit” basis. You will only receive credit for completing the assignment and submitting it on time. You will not be penalized for incorrect answers. Partial credit will not be given for incomplete or late work. However, you are strongly encouraged to complete the exercise since they are instrumental in learning the material. Thus, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by attending class, and working in the assigned group to complete and submit the exercises on time.

Readings from the text and class handouts are a very important part of the course. They will provide a considerable amount of information. Completing the readings prior to class will help facilitate learning the material and allow you to seek clarification of issues that remain unclear even after lecture. Further, the readings will be, in part, a source for questions on quizzes including the program’s comprehensive exam.

Lectures will highlight the readings; in addition to, providing complementary and supplementary information. A substantial portion of class time will be devoted to reviewing budget exercises and discussing cases. You are strongly encouraged to ask questions during lectures. If you do not understand some concept, it is very likely others do not as well, so do not hesitate to ask questions.

Plagiarism Policies are adhered to in this course. Ask your instructor or click here if you do not know what is or is not plagiarism.

Grading Scale:

Grade Equivalent
675 - 608
607 - 540
539 - 472
471 - 404
403 or fewer
% Total
Quizzes 3 Quizzes @ 40 points
Homework Discussion Write-up 4 write-ups @ 50 points each
Homework Spreadsheet Exercises 7 @ 25 points each



Group Exercises
6 @ 30 points per session
Total Points
675 points


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Course Policies

Mutual Respect in Communications: A very important aspect of learning is respectful communication. The classroom is based on the value of mutually respectful communication. Students assume responsibility for respectful communications with other students and with course instructors, including communications which do not disrupt the classroom environment.

Disruptive Communications

• communications which disrupt the learning environment
• use of profanity and/or insulting or harassing remarks in class, email, discussions, chat or telephone communications.

A student who participates in disruptive communications forfeits the right to further class participation and is subject to removal from the course for the given term.

Plagiarism and academic dishonesty: The CSUN catalog defines plagiarism as "intentionally or knowingly representing the words, ideas, or work of another as one's own in academic exercise." Any idea or words that you use whether from a book, an article, the internet, or elsewhere must be cited appropriately. I do not tolerate plagiarism or academic dishonesty of any kind and I will, at a minimum, give an F for the course to any student guilty of plagiarism or academic dishonesty. The CSUN catalog also authorizes me to refer the case to the appropriate University officials and seek expulsion of the student from the University. I will exercise that option if I feel it is warranted. Make sure all your work is properly cited and do not represent the work of others as your own.

Late Work: Late Assignments will not be accepted unless prior arrangements have been made with the instructor.

Incomplete Grades: The "Incomplete" grade is a temporary grade indicating that the student has a satisfactory record of work completed but, for exceptional reasons, was unable to complete the final assignments. If circumstances beyond your control prevent you from completing an assignment at the end of the term, consult your instructor, immediately. The instructor will determine whether you have a reasonable chance of satisfactorily completing the remaining activities without online access to course materials. Your instructor must work out a way for you to complete the course without benefit of the course Web site. The "Incomplete" grade is designed for students who, because of documented illness or circumstances beyond their control, are unable to complete their course work within the semester but have completed a majority of the course work (75-85% of the course assignments and tests) in a satisfactory manner. The student is responsible for initiating the request for an "Incomplete" grade from the instructor. In requesting an "Incomplete" grade, the student should email the instructor the following information for evaluation: Documentation of Circumstances: Evidence of completion of 75-85% of the semester course work.

A Work-Completion Plan Needs to Include the Following:

What and how assignments and tests will be submitted to complete the course.

The time period in which the work must be completed, not to exceed 15 weeks from the end of the on-line semester.

The grade to be assigned if the work is not completed.

Both the instructor and the student must acknowledge this written email and keep a copy of the acknowledgment as documentation.

NOTE: You are encouraged to let me know as soon as possible if you are having difficulties with any part of the course. At no time will the "Incomplete" grade be used as entrance into another current or future course section for completion of the work. In the unlikely event that you and I cannot reach some resolution, please contact the Vice President of Instruction.

Academic Integrity: Plagiarism is the act of using words and/or ideas from another person or source without acknowledgment of debt to that person or source and is a serious academic crime. Students are expected to do their own work. Students are expected to follow Academic/Plagiarism policies.

Special Services: If you have a learning or physical disability that will require special accommodation, please notify your instructor immediately upon enrollment.

Notice of Nondiscrimination: California State University at Northridge is an equal-opportunity educational institution and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Reasonable accommodations will be provided upon request for persons with disabilities.

Disclaimer: With the exception of the stated competencies for this course, this syllabus may be altered during the semester by the instructor as the learning environment requires.

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