Decree or democracy? State takeovers and local government financial outcomes

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Singla, Akheil, Spreen, Thomas Luke, and Shumberger, Jason. 2023. “ Decree or Democracy? State Takeovers and Local Government Financial Outcomes.” Public Administration Review 83(4): 911–929.


Many states possess the authority to intervene in local fiscal emergencies, in some cases curtailing decision-making powers of local officials through the appointment of an emergency financial manager. Previous research has recognized that these managers can push through unpopular reforms that may improve financial health but come at the expense of local control and democratic accountability. We assess the financial outcomes after eight recent state takeovers relative to a matched counterfactual comprised of similarly distressed general purpose local governments. The staggered difference-in-differences analysis shows emergency managers improve budgetary solvency and increase fiscal reserves. These enhancements are achieved through significant reduction of general fund expenditures. Several long-term indicators show deterioration in financial health after state intervention reflecting a significant decline in long-term assets. Overall, municipalities subjected to a state takeover did not realize significant long-run improvements in financial health indicators relative to counterfactual governments.