This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
An interesting phase of public bookkeeping is the separation of accounts into funds. When Parliament voted a tax it was formerly for a definite purpose, and the plan was to reserve the whole of it for the proposed purpose. But the receipts and expenditures of these funds never exactly balanced, and simplicity finally required that all should be turned into the consolidated fund. This method of bookkeeping is best exhibited to-day by the accounts of the commonwealths in the United States, although also used in national and municipal accounts to some extent. All the receipts are distributed among various so-called "funds,"
or accounts, according to some prearranged plan. A separate account is kept of all receipts and expenditures belonging to each fund. With the exception of a few trust funds arranged to keep certain sums inviolate, these funds are, in effect, mere bookkeeping contrivances. With the exception of the General Fund, which receives all the money not otherwise appropriated to special funds, each of these accounts generally bears the name of the expenditure met thereby, sometimes of the revenues supplying them. In some commonwealths the number of these funds is very large.1 The accounts are sometimes complicated by transfers from one fund to another, in which case they appear twice in the account, and frequently swell the apparent receipts enormously.
1 See Seligman, " Finance Statistics of the American Commonwealths"' Pub. Amer. Statistical Assoc, December, 1889.
Local budgets are necessarily determined by the frame of local government and the number of functions performed by each. Thus in England the public function to be performed constitutes the basis of local organisation, and until the recent reforms each local governing body had only one or two duties ; hence only one or two general accounts of expenditures, and one or two sources of income. But in America each local governing body generally has charge of all the local functions affecting a certain area, and may have as many expenditures and revenues as a common wealth, or even more. Here methods of accounting defy classification and frequently defy sensible interpretation, even by the officials in charge. There is a crying need for reform here in the direction of uniformity.1
1 See in this connection a form suggested for published reports of municipalities by Prof. H. B. Gardner, in the Pub. of the Amer. Statistical Assoc., June, 1889, and adopted, in part, by the Eleventh Census of the United States, as the basis of schedules and inquiries sent to the municipalities.