Local Governments’ Responses to Revenue Changes: The Effects of Unreserved General Fund Balances

Source: Min Su, International Journal of Public Administration, Latest Articles, September 10, 2019

From the abstract:
Volatile revenues affect the quality and consistency of municipal service provision. This article investigates how cities use unreserved general fund balances to mitigate annual expenditure fluctuations when confronted with volatile revenues. Based on the analysis of a panel dataset of over two thousand American cities from 2003 to 2011, the fixed-effects regression results suggest that unreserved general fund balances reduce municipal expenditure fluctuations on a year-to-year basis. The expenditure-smoothing effects were more pronounced when municipal governments experienced large revenue changes. Results are robust when excluding large cities, using different cutting-points to define ‘moderate’ or ‘large’ revenue changes, and in recession and non-recession years. This article contributes to the local expenditure stabilization literature by recognizing the unreserved general fund balances’ expenditure-smoothing effects during ‘non-rainy days.’ It adds empirical evidence to the organizational theory that financial slack works as a crucial buffer against external changes and provides managerial discretion to local administrators.