Post-great recession municipal budgeting and governance: A mixed methods analysis of budget stress and reform
The Great Recession hit several U.S. cities hard. Facing large revenue losses, these cities undertook dramatic spending cuts and utilized rarely used restructuring tools. This led some to speculate that these were exemplars of austerity urbanism. Subsequent work has contested this interpretation, arguing instead that cities have generally pursued pragmatic, not austere, reform. This paper seeks to move beyond this impasse, developing a mixed methods longitudinal analysis of quantitative and qualitative municipal budget data. Quantitative data is drawn from the U.S. Census of Local Government (2006–2016) and is used identify statistical relationships between budget health and budget composition in a nationwide sample (n = 1,449) of municipalities. Then follows a qualitative analysis of budget narrative data from the six most fiscally distressed large and medium sized U.S. cities. The paper therefore identifies commonalities in post-Great Recession urban governance (i) in a large nationwide sample of cities and (ii) within a small group of extreme cases. The research found weak nationwide trends in budgetary change and divergent budget narratives in cases of severe municipal fiscal distress. We argue this means three things for understanding U.S. urban governance. First, the tracing of superficially similar “local” budget reforms to a single political economic descriptor is misplaced. Second, U.S. municipal budgetary reforms are relational, outcomes of both local and extra-local diagnosis, interpretation, and mediation. Third, and finally, decisions to introduce local austerity policies stem not just from “outside.” This paper therefore shows the potential intellectual returns of in-depth, case-study research on U.S. urban governance and finance.
Environment and Planning A
Davidson, Mark and Ward, Kevin, "Post-great recession municipal budgeting and governance: A mixed methods analysis of budget stress and reform" (2022). Geography. 88.