The Institutional Foundations of Local Decisionmaking & Representation



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This dissertation explores how local institutions affect decisionmaking and representation in urban America. First, I argue that conventional expectations for partisan officials will hold at the local level, specifically Democratic mayors will prefer higher expenditures, while Republicans will prefer lower taxes. In the first empirical chapter, I find that in the wake of improved credit ratings, cities led by Democratic mayors are more likely to increase expenditures, findings that are even more robust for institutionally strong Democratic mayors. In contrast, cities led by Republican mayors keep spending and taxes in stasis. Second, I argue that electoral institutions, specifically single-member district governing bodies, better fulfill demand that diverse service populations require. This is due to the fact that minorities are more likely to be elected to office if the position is to serve a single-member district, and under single-member districts, representatives have to appeal to multiple median voters and thus bring more diverse perspectives and better advocate for minority populations. In the second empirical chapter, using data from Texas school campuses from 1999-2011, I find that campuses with greater Latino populations receive more funding when the school board has a greater proportion of Latino representatives and when their school board is elected by district or ward. Yet, these findings do not consistently hold for bilingual funding. Finally, I assess the extent to which the county's electoral rules affect program participation in TANF, arguing that when control has devolved to the local government and that government is more representative of low-income constituents (i.e. a greater proportion of positions on the legislative body are elected to serve single-member districts), program participation will increase. In the third empirical chapter, using an original data collection of the most populous American counties' institutional and legislative characteristics, I find that discretion, conditional on county institutions, improves TANF participation rates when electoral rules encourage better representation of low-income constituents.



Representation, Institutions, Race, Public finance