Are U.S. Cities Losing Power and Authority Perceptions of Local Government Actors

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Summary 8

Are U.S. Cities Losing Power and Authority? Perceptions of Local Government Actors

This was a study carried out by Ann O’M. Bowman and Richard C. Kearney. They sought to answer the questions, “Is the power and authority that had been previously enjoyed by local authorities diminishing? Are there changes that have happened in the last decades that have seen the local authorities given less mandate over the running of the state?” They sought to answer these questions by surveying how the local authority works and questioning the people who have worked with and for local authorities for a long time, thus having vast knowledge of how the system works. The authors looked at how the state-local relationship has advanced through out the years and the changes that have come along with it.

The sample size consisted of state legislators, city managers, and executive directors of state municipal leagues and county associations. These four groups’ best represent the local authorities and the different perspectives that they hold. The legislators represented the faction of the makes laws that govern the cities. City managers represent the people that administer the laws that have been made and are well versed on how the laws affect the cities. Executive directors and county associations are mainly involved with lobbying which laws should be enacted in a city. In January 2010, 99 government committee chairs and 585 randomly chosen city managers were sent surveys. The executive directors and county associations were emailed a link that they could fill online.

The data collected from the respondents at the end of the survey was tabulated and graphically represented in a series of graphs. From what they found, it showed that there has been a steady devolution of power with finance, service provision being affected the most, and personnel and home rule being affected the least. The research showed that the sample size mostly had the same opinion about the shift in power and authority. Another trend that was noted was how the city managers were more negative compared to the other respondents, especially in issues concerned with land use, education and planning.

From the responses got, it is clear that cities have lost some of the power that they used to have to the state governments. This has been viewed as a mixed blessing as it has seen some areas improving because of the devolution of power. For instance, the air quality research that was done by Woods and Potoski in 2010 showed that cities tend to leave the costly tasks that need to be implemented to the government rather than taking them up on their own. Thus, they would rather employ cost-cutting measures. The authors felt that some cities even the great ones had a tendency of holding back their localities. As a result, they have decided to adapt ways to mutually benefit from each other. One of the ways in which the research has benefited the society is that, through the way data was collected it gave localities a new way in which they can view the devolution of power. They could now appreciate the reasons why devolution of power has also been a gain to them. In conclusion, it is evident that cities have lost their discretionary power and authority over the past decade.

Annexation, Local Government Spending, and the Complicating Role of Density

Annexation has been commonly used to refer to the way in which a plan can be put into play to progress the overall fiscal environment of a city. It involves governments acquiring land to consolidate it in an economical and comprehensive fashion. It is a common practice in the U.S, which dates back to the early 1800s. The article that was written by Mary M Edwards and Yu Xiao examines the effect of annexation has had on government spending. Thus, before a city decides to partake in annexation, such as the monetary effects and the good that will come out of it. The article highlights the financial repercussions of annexation.

The sample size included 952 cities that had approximately 10,000 people that had been recently annexed (between 1992 and 2002). Most of the data used had been collected in the recent U.S census in which the Boundary and Annexation Survey had already been carried out. Other sources of data included state and local sources by looking at their current spending behavior. The cities were divided into different categories depending on the annexation volumes. They were low, moderate and high. The cities chosen had a population range of 10,000 to 2million people. The key characteristics that the study looked out for were how dense a population was, the tax levied on the people and the income that a family unit had. The data was represented in tables and graphs.

The results from the study emulated what a number of urban scholars had already postulated. For instance, the studies carried out by Liner in 1992 and Mehay in 1981. First, it was found that annexation was inversely correlated to two things that are, rates of growth per capita fire and police expenditure. Liner had also come up with similar conclusions. The writers of the article also agreed with Mehay’s findings that extending municipal boundaries has a positive effect on expenditure per capita.

In conclusion, it was found that the fiscal outcome of annexation depends on the strengths in variances of land area and population densities when socioeconomic and geographic variables are held constant. It was found in previous studies that a city that has high rates of annexation have lower density, which in turn are associated with higher spending, levels. This study contradicted that and postulated that higher annexes exhibit lower spending levels. This contradiction is explained through the benefits that are accrued from the increase in land area counteract the efficiency losses because of lower densities. Thus, an increase in land area by one percent leads to decrease of total expenditure of per capita by 0.17%. Moreover, 1% decrease in population density increases the growth of total expenditures per capita by 0.29%. All these factors depend on the percentage in which land area has increased.

Therefore, annexation can lead to lower spending in municipalities if implemented wisely. It creates an opportunity for cities to attain service delivery and administrative duties efficiently and at the same time cut down on costs. How densely populated an area is plays a crucial role on how effective annexation will be. The research concluded that the higher densely developed an area is the better service delivery and administrative efficiencies are. However, the lower density development is the spread out and more expensive it is to serve that city.