Category Archives: Cities & Towns

The 2016 State of Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages

Source: Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, 2016

From the press release:
Since the Great Recession, Wisconsin’s cities and villages have maintained critical services despite no significant increases in local or state revenue. But challenging times are just around the corner for local road systems, and Wisconsin’s smallest communities are still waiting for the economy to recover fully, according to a new report sponsored by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

The inaugural edition of “The State of Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages” is a combination of data analysis and local government survey information prepared for the League of Wisconsin Municipalities by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). ….

….The report’s key findings include:
• Wisconsin’s local governments have been great stewards of limited tax dollars. From 2011 to 2014, total revenues to cities and villages grew just 2.1%, which when adjusted for inflation represented a real decline in funding. Additionally, cities and villages absorbed a 12.8% cut in state support. This contrasts with state revenues, which grew by more than 8% during the same period.
• Cities and villages managed by focusing on public safety. Despite flat revenues, police and fire response times were unchanged. There were reductions in snow plowing response time; street maintenance was flat; and other non-life-safety city services were cut. Yet local leaders reported high levels of citizen satisfaction with municipal services.
• Maintenance of local roads remains a long-term challenge. While 68% of city and village streets ranked “good,” “very good,” or “excellent,” this percentage has been declining since 2009 while the percentage of “fair,” and “poor or worse,” has been increasing.
• Delaying street maintenance projects raises costs exponentially. While basic street resurfacing costs $606,000 per mile, the cost quadruples if the work is deferred and streets need to be reconstructed.
• Municipal borrowing is a growing concern. The report found that local debt service payments have skyrocketed. Municipal budgets now allocate $1 of every $5 to paying off loans for work done in the past. Debt service hovered around 15% between 1986 and 2000. Paying off old debts reduces money available to undertake current street projects and other municipal needs….

Blue Cities, Red States

Source: Abby Rapoport, American Prospect, August 22, 2016

As cities have moved left and states have moved right, the conflicts between them have escalated. ….

…..“PREEMPTION” LAWS ARE not new, nor are they necessarily about undoing local legislation. But with some notable exceptions, past preemption laws have generally enforced what can be called “minimum preemption”: They force localities to do something where they might otherwise have done little or nothing. As it’s often said, they set a “floor” for regulation. For instance, the federal government has been setting minimum standards of environmental protection for years, preempting the states from allowing lower environmental standards. Similarly, states often set a floor for various local regulations, whether regarding pollution, trade licensing, gun ownership, or other matters.

Most current preemption laws, by contrast, are what one might call “maximum preemption.” These laws aren’t about setting minimums; instead, they prohibit local regulation. States have prevented localities from creating paid sick leave requirements for businesses, or raising the minimum wage. Many who oppose these measures blame their proliferation on the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, which has drafted “model” preemption bills for state lawmakers to use. “Pretty much anything you can think of that matters to the American family is under assault by local preemption,” says Mark Pertschuk, the director of Grassroots Change, which fights preemption laws around the country……

Arts Stability and Growth Amid Redevelopment in U.S. Shrinking Cities’ Downtowns: A Case Study

Source: Joanna P. Ganning, Economic Development Quarterly, Vol. 30 no. 3, August 2016

From the abstract:
While the relationship between arts businesses and redevelopment has been studied extensively in world-class cities, it remains understudied in weaker market cities. With tight municipal budgets, shrinking cities cannot afford to not understand both the benefits of the arts for downtown redevelopment and the impact of redevelopment on the arts. Using block-level data for a U.S. shrinking city’s downtown (St. Louis), this study finds that the arts have neither anchored redevelopment nor been driven out of the downtown by redevelopment. The latter finding signals an opportunity for shrinking cities to harness the benefits of the arts in downtown redevelopment.

D.C.’s White Donor Class: Outsized Influence in a Diverse City

Source: Sean McElwee, Dēmos, June 2016

Key Findings:
– The donor class doesn’t represent the diversity of Washington D.C.’s population. While 37 percent of D.C.’s population is white, 62 percent of mayoral donors and 67 percent of City Council donors are white.
– The rich are disproportionately represented in the donor class. Only a quarter of D.C.’s adult population makes more than $100,000, but 59 percent of council donors and 61 percent of mayoral donors do.
– The pool of donors who make small donations is more representative than the pool of those who make large donations. Women make up about half of those giving less than $50 to mayoral and council races, but only 31 percent of those giving more than $1,000. People of color make up 47 percent of mayoral donors giving less than $25, but 31 percent of those giving more than $1,000.
– The small donor pool contains more income diversity as well. Those making $100,000 or more comprise 44 percent of donors giving $25 or less to mayoral candidates, but 72 percent of those giving $1,000 or more.
– Mayoral candidates relied heavily on big donors, raising less than 7 percent of their total funds from donors giving less than $100, and 67 percent from donors giving more than $1,000.
– A system of public financing would increase the diversity of D.C.’s donor class, leading to more responsive policymaking.

Sorting Through the Determinants of Local Government Competition

Source: Michael Overton, The American Review of Public Administration,Published online before print June 22, 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Competition among local governments for business investment and residents is a key feature of metropolitan governance scholarship. Despite the excellent work exploring interjurisdictional competition, the conceptualization and operationalization of competition still lack the necessary complexity to fully capture the determinants of competition. In reality, the degree of competition between local governments is a multidimensional concept. How do the different dimensions of competition impact a city’s own-source revenue yield? Using a Spatial Durbin Model (SDM) to analyze a sample of 2,299 U.S. cities, this study finds that household income differentiation and manufacturing differentiation are important in a city’s revenue yield, and both types of differentiation limit head-to-head competition among local governments. In addition, the results indicate that entry barriers and collaboration affect a city’s revenue yields, while the number of cities in a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) does not influence those collections.

Fiscal Health of Large U.S. Cities Varied Long After Great Recession’s End

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts, American Cities Project, Issue Brief, April 2016

From the overview:
Though the U.S. economy improved for a fourth straight year in fiscal year 2013, many big cities faced constrained budgets because of weak property tax revenue growth and cuts in federal and state aid.

This brief focuses on the cities that anchor the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. The fiscal health of the cities varied considerably in fiscal 2013, depending on their circumstances. Still, a number of trends emerge concerning the cities’ revenue, spending, and reserves.

The analysis, based on audited city financial statements, continues work undertaken by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ American cities project following the Great Recession, which ran from late 2007 through mid-2009. For this multiyear series, Pew has examined data in the financial statements of the central city in each of the nation’s 30 largest metro areas (as defined by the 2010 census). Though included in previous analyses, Cincinnati was excluded from the most recent look at revenue, spending, and reserves because city officials changed its fiscal year in 2013. That resulted in financial documents that covered only six months and made it impossible to compare financial information to previous years or to other cities included in the analysis.

A separate brief, “Issuance of New Money Bonds Remains Low in Large U.S. Cities,” looks at trends in city bond issuances through 2014….