This blog post is a short excerpt from Public Administration Review (PAR). Access the rest of the article here.
This article updates cutback management theory and challenges austerity urbanism theory by showing that local governments practice pragmatic municipalism—protecting services with a balanced response to fiscal stress. Using a 2017 national survey of 2,341 U.S. municipalities and counties, the authors identify four responses—no specific action, cuts, revenue supplements, and deferrals. Structural equation models show that cuts are higher in places with older infrastructure and more unemployment but not in places with more poverty. Supplemental responses are higher in places with professional management and higher education. Deferrals are higher in places with more debt but lower in places with older infrastructure. Localities with less fiscal stress take no specific action. Most governments combine cuts, supplements, and deferrals; this balanced response is associated with more fiscal stress, more citizen engagement, and higher levels of unionization. These results show that local governments practice pragmatic municipalism, not austerity urbanism, when responding to fiscal stress.