Let me start by saying how proud and humbled I am to lead such an impressive organization as the GFOA. Throughout its 104-year history, the GFOA has continued to raise the bar on the government finance profession, and I will do whatever I can to contribute to that progress. Someone asked me after I became president elect what my approach would be as president. I said that it would be like retouching the Mona Lisa--something that requires great care and ultimate respect for those who have so skilfully shaped the organization since its inception.
None of us achieves our full potential alone. My wife, Diane, and my children, Kim and Scott, have made my journey so very worthwhile and have always been there for me. Toronto City Manager Joe Pennachetti and Chief Financial Officer Cam Weldon gave me a big green light to pursue the president position and have been strong supporters of the GFOA over the years. I am also deeply indebted to my colleagues on the GFOA Executive Board and the Committee on Canadian Issues. We are all extremely well served by your dedication and leadership.
Each of us has our own story to tell about how we first became involved with the GFOA--what attracted us, and what continues to attract us. The appeal for me is because:
* Much of the work of the GFOA is done by practicing government finance officers--and in particular, members of the standing committees--individuals who live, work, and breathe the profession.
* The organization can only be described as high performing, which is a testament to Executive Director Jeff Esser and his remarkable team.
* The GFOA has imminent appeal to a wide range of government entities across the United States and Canada--large, small, urban, rural, and everything from water districts to airport authorities, school districts, and state and provincial governments.
* The GFOA gives us the opportunity to network with some of the best minds in government finance.
One of the things that sets us, as government finance officers, apart from our private-sector counterparts is that we are far more open to sharing our stories--stories of success and, of equal importance, of things that did not go so well. I learned during my private pilot training that you should learn from the mistakes of others, since you will not live long enough to make them all yourself. I would encourage you to take full advantage of your GFOA colleagues, to be open about your experiences, to share your stories, and to hear the experiences of others.
A key area where we can learn from each other is long-term financial planning.
In early 2009, when I was interviewed for president elect, I assumed, like many of you, that by this time the economy would be rolling along and governmental revenues would be strengthening. Well, the economy is slowly rebounding, but government finances have not returned to where they were. The term "economic recovery" has been replaced with "economic reset." People are talking about the "new normal." As a result, we have been in crisis mode for far too long, and our jobs continue to be more challenging than ever.
There can be no denying that the financial landscape has fundamentally changed. New tools and new approaches are needed. Taking a long-term view has now become more vitally important than ever before. Few activities will more dramatically define and secure the emerging role of the government finance officer than long-term financial planning.
As the great Yogi Berra once said, "It's tough to make predictions--especially about the future." After several years of making financial decisions which, out of necessity, took a short-term view, I think it is time we got back to the future.
But what kind of future? There are many questions:
* Will support from senior governments erode once stimulus spending is complete, as they deal with record deficits anal mounting debt?
* How far and how fast will interest rates rise, and what will that do to the cost of our debt?
* Will offshore competition continue to erode jobs, anal what effects will that have on the demand for government services?
* Will our infrastructure be maintained in a state of repair that supports those services?
* And will our revenues come close to matching the amounts we received just a few years ago?
Can we accurately predict the future? No. But that is not as important as carefully planning for different possible outcomes.
We will be expected by the public anal elected officials to continue delivering the same or better services with fewer resources. We will continue to serve an aging population with aging infrastructure. Anal, most importantly, we will be expected to have the answers, to develop the vision, anal to be the financial leaders in our organizations.
Yes, things will be difficult. But, armed with the GFOA's impressive body of resources on long-term financial planning, we can tackle these problems head on and be those leaders.
We can active]y develop long-term financial plans at whatever level of detail is appropriate in our own circumstances. For some, that will mean comprehensive plans across our entire organizations. For others, it is enough to start by planning more narrowly for our own areas of direct responsibility. The key is to take action that leads forward.
We can recognize that long-term planning underpins good budgeting, financial reporting, debt management, investing, and business planning, and is an integral part of any strategic planning exercise. It will give our decision makers the foundation against which to assess the difficult financial decisions that will continue to be required. It will give our taxpayers the assurance they need that our organizations have plans for the future. And it will mean that we will consider the broader implications of our decisions, rather than focusing on our survival through another year's budget.
It is my firm belief that each of us should have a long-term financial vision and to keep that perspective at the forefront of our day-to-day decision making. As Bill Barnes, director for emerging issues at the National League of Cities, recently said, "Now is not the time to stop thinking about tomorrow."
I look forward to meeting and working with as many of you as possible over the coming 12 months. At this time next year, we can be better positioned than ever to help ensure the long-term financial health of our organizations.
Let's do our part to be the financial leaders that will help our organizations plan and prepare for what lies ahead. And let's get back to the future.
Len S. Brittain