Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Form of Government and Public Spending in a Fiscal Crisis

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 2:05 PM
Johnson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Evgenia Gorina, University of Texas at Dallas
Professionalization of public management accounts for a growing number of U.S. cities with the council-manager form of government. Since the 1960s, research has examined effects of the form of government on public spending but has offered no consensus on the direction of these effects. This paper uses data from International City/County Management Association (ICMA) surveys on municipal form of government in 2006 and 2011 and U.S. Census Bureau surveys of government finances in fiscal years 2007- 2012 to test the 'public accountability' theory of local fiscal policy determination proposed by Coate and Knight (2011). The theory predicts a lower level of public spending under the mayor-council government and explains it through an additional level of public accountability for fiscal decisions in the presence of an elected mayor.

This paper uses a natural variation in fiscal management outcomes before and after the Great Recession to test if the form of government affected city responses to the fiscal crisis. Specifically, I follow the logic of the public accountability model and expect mayor-council cities to cut services and defer capital outlays in a recession less often and to a lesser extent than council-manager cities.

The empirical strategy of this paper is as follows. First, I will use propensity score matching to identify mayor-council and council-manager cities that are similar by observed socio-economic and fiscal characteristics before the Great Recession (FY 2007). Then, I will examine differences in general spending and capital outlays before and after the Recession for the matched observations. As the U.S. Census Bureau surveys all city governments once in five years, models on the full sample will be run only for FY 2007 and FY 2012. In addition, I will test the models on a smaller subsample of governments surveyed by the Census Bureau annually between FY 2007 and FY 2012 and use moving averages of changes in general spending and capital outlays in FY 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 as response variables.

Findings of smaller and less frequent spending cuts and capital outlay cuts by mayor-councils will support the Coate and Knight (2011) model. Lack of statistically significant differences in spending will support the work by McDonald (2008) who found no effects of the form of government on public spending. Findings of higher and more frequent spending cuts and capital outlay cuts by mayor-council cities will be interpreted as positive effects of city government professionalization (the council-manager form of government) on the practice of financial management.


Coate, Stephen and Brian Knight. 2011. Government Form and Public Spending: Theory and Evidence from U.S. Municipalities, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy3(3): 82-112.

McDonald, Lynn. 2008. The Impact of Government Structure on Local Public Expenditures, Public Choice 136 (3-4): 457-473.