Unlike FASB, the SEC has no control over GASB. But the Commission is obligated “to protect investors in the municipal markets from fraud, including misleading disclosures [emphasis added].” Taken together, the SEC’s own statements make a strong case that it is obligated to prevent fraud in state and local governments’ financial reports, which are confusing and obfuscate the truth.
The state and local governments’ annual financial reports are based on shoddy accounting practices. If confusing and misleading disclosures are considered fraud, then annual reports produce fraudulent disclosures.
It is confusing and misleading that the GASB requires state and local governments to keep two sets of books. Annual financial reports include governmental fund statements that are prepared using an accounting basis called the “modified accrual basis,” which in essence uses short-sighted cash accounting, while the consolidated financial statements are prepared using accrual accounting standards similar to those used by corporations.
I will give a very simple example: suppose Netflix makes a deal where instead of you paying for a year’s subscription at a time, you can get a big discount if you pay for 2 years’ subscription.
Subscribers love the deal and pay for it….
….and then Netflix says their sales doubled in their financial reports. That’s IF they followed cash-based accounting, which records cash flows.
But they don’t, because accounting standards boards (outside the government sphere) know that this is just a trick to boost how financials look under cash accounting. And there are loads of these tricks. I just gave one simple example. The trick of getting people to pre-pay for sales to boost the numbers is a well-known ploy on the revenue side. A well-known ploy on the expenses side is to put off paying bills.
This is obviously distorting recognizing the true economic arrangement underlying these transactions, and some of the tricks make for a more fragile economic position for specific businesses. It was always the marginal businesses, which were barely hanging on, where cash-basis accounting tempts into trickery, which usually ends in financial failure. So accounting standards have developed to prevent this stuff.