Financing State and Local Governments

Brookings Institution Press
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State and local governments are at a financial crossroads. As the federal government attempts to reduce its deficits, state governments will have to provide a greater share of support for mandatory social programs. Local governments face demands for new initiatives in education and for civic improvements. Both have obligations to employee pension plans that are large and still relatively untested. Running counter to these claims on state and local budgets is a voter effort to limit the amounts that governments may tax or spend.

This fourth edition of James A. Maxwell's classic and widely acclaimed book will help both layman and lawmaker understand the choices open to their governments. It provides a lucid, nontechnical analysis of state and local finance. It gives concise descriptions of the taxes, grants, debt issues, and user charges that finance state and local government and discusses their relative virtues and drawbacks. It traces the history of state and local finance and presents statistical data on expenditures, federal aid, revenue from taxes and user charges, debt, and pension funds. The new edition, in recognition of changes since the mid-1970s, also includes a separate chapter on financing education and broadened analyses of federal grant programs, employee retirement systems, and nonguaranteed municipal debt.

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About the author

J. Richard Aronson is William L. Clayton Professor of Economics and director of the Fairchild-Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

John L. Hilley worked in the White House as senior adviser and head of legislative affairs to President Bill Clinton from February 1996 to January 1998. In this role, he oversaw and participated in the negotiation of all major legislation. Before moving to the White House, Hilley served as chief counsel for Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and majority staff director for Senate Budget Committee Chairman Jim Sasser. In the private sector, he has served as executive vice president of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) and as chairman and CEO of NASDAQ International. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.

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Additional Information

Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Dec 1, 2010
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Business & Economics / Public Finance
Political Science / American Government / Local
Political Science / American Government / State
Political Science / Public Policy / Economic Policy
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This volume brings together the contributions of twenty-four economists and lawyers on tax policy. Five papers build on the work of Joseph A. Pechman in analyzing the distribution of tax burdens. A. B. Atkinson relates the analysis of redistribution of income through the tax system to horizontal equity, James Buchanan and Geoffrey Brennan demonstrate that a full analysis of tax burdens must encompass tax-induced inefficiencies, and Boris I. Bittker examines how tax inequities become resource misallocation. In separate papers, Joseph J. Minarik and Benjamin A. Okner elaborate on and extend Pechman’s analyses of tax burdens. Three papers address the concept of tax expenditures: Stanley S. Surrey and Paul R. McDaniel trace the development of the idea, Martin S. Feldstein demonstrates that some use of tax expenditures is necessary for the sake of economic efficiency, and Gerard M. Brannon examines the relations between tax expenditures and the distribution of income. Michael J. Boskin, Richard Goode, Peter Mieszkowski, and John B. Shoven and Paul Taubman examine alternative tax bases. Harvey E. Brazer and Alicia H. Munnell, in separate papers, argue that the basic unit subject to the personal income tax should be the individual rather than the family. David F. Bradford and Arnold C. Harberger analyze changes that would reduce present biases in the tax treatment of investment income. George F. Break and Charles E. McLure, Jr., consider possible improvements in the personal and corporation income taxes imposed by states. E. Cary Brown, Richard A. Musgrave, and Emil M. Sunley deal with fiscal policy. Brown draws lessons from U.S. History since 1945. Musgrave confronts Marxian and other theories of fiscal crises with the facts. Sunley describes the many pitfalls between proposals for even modest tax change and final congressional action.
The social security system affects people throughout most of their lives, at work and in retirement. The supposed effects of social security on saving, labor supply, and the distribution of income figure prominently in current debates about whether and how to change the system. Theorists have developed alternative analytical frameworks for studying social security, but all involve extreme assumptions introduced for the sake of analytical tractability. Each study seems to describe the behavior of some, but not all or even most people. The shortcomings of available data have created additional roadblocks. As a result, the effects of social security on saving and labor supply are difficult to measure, and how such a complex system influences behavior is not at all well understood.

Yet decisions on social security cannot be avoided. If analysts cannot agree, policymakers are likely to increase the weight they attach to perceptions of equity, adequacy of benefits, fairness of taxes, and similar qualitative considerations. Hence it is desirable for lay observers to understand the framework that analysts use and the reasons why there is so much uncertainty.

This book sheds light on social security issues by examining evidence from economic studies about how the system affects saving, labor supply, and income distribution. It shows that these studies provide little evidence to support or refute assertions that social security has reduced saving, but they do indicate that it has contributed to the trend toward early retirement. The author finds that the aged are now about as well off on the average as the general population and that social security has played a considerable role in bringing about this equality.

This volume is the sixteenth in the second serioes of Brookings Studies of Government Finance.

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