The Politics of Local Service Provision in the United States
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Local governments in the United States spend more than $1.6 trillion annually on public service provision. Access to reliable public services is essential for health and wellbeing. But there are large disparities in access to services across the country. This dissertation asks why. Specifically, I examine the incentives and constraints that influence investment in services. Local governments fund service provision with revenue from local taxes, fees, and intergovernmental aid. The amount of revenue that local governments collect depends on the demographics of their jurisdiction. Demographics undergird the size of the revenue base, voter preferences over tax rates and fees, and the need and capacity to seek intergovernmental aid. Each standalone chapter of this dissertation examines one of these components. In the first chapter, I use data from the U.S. Census and Census of Governments to examine how income segregation between municipalities shapes local service expenditures in metropolitan areas. In the second chapter, my coauthors and I use data on water rates and local elections to test whether voters hold local elected officials responsible for increasing service fees. In the third chapter, I use data from service area shapefiles, the U.S. Census, and state agencies to assess whether resource-based differences in need and capacity correlate with the allocation of federal aid for water services. Understanding the politics of local service provision has important implications for equitable access to services.
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