Vertical Grants and Local Public Efficiency. The Inference-disturbing Effect of Fiscal Equalization
Public Finance Review,
The existing empirical literature on the impact of vertical grants on local public-sector efficiency yields mixed results. Given the fact that vertical financial equalization systems often reduce differences in fiscal capacity, we argue that empirical studies based on cross-sectional data may yield a positive relationship between grants and efficiency of public service production even when the underlying causal effect is not. We provide a simple illustrative theoretical model to show the logic of our argument and illustrate its relevance by an empirical case study for the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. We show that our main argument of an inference-disturbing effect applies to those existing studies that are more optimistic about the impact of vertical grants. Finally, we argue that it may disturb the inference drawn from studies in a number of other countries where vertical grants—intended or not—concentrate in fiscally weak municipalities.
Vertical Grants and Local Public Efficiency
IWH Discussion Papers,
This paper analyses the impact of vertical grants on local public sector efficiency. First, we develop a theoretical model in which the bureaucrat sets the tax price while voters choose the quantity of public services. In this model, grants reduce efficiency if voters do not misinterpret the amount of vertical grants the local bureaucrats receive. If voters suffer from fiscal illusion, i.e. overestimate the amount of grants, our model yields an ambiguous effect of grants on efficiency. Second, we use the model to launch a note of caution concerning the inference that can be drawn from the existing cross-sectional studies in this field: Taking into account vertical financial equalization systems that reduce differences in fiscal capacity, empirical studies based on cross-sectional data may yield a positive relationship between grants and efficiency even when the underlying causal effect is negative. Third, we perform an empirical analysis for the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, which has implemented such a fiscal equalization system. We find a positive relationship between grants and efficiency. Our analysis shows that a careful reassessment of existing empirical evidence with regard to this issue seems necessary.
Grant Dependence, Regulation and the Effects of Formula-based Grant Systems on German Local Governments: A Data Report for Saxony-Anhalt
IWH Discussion Papers,
Recent empirical studies have found – seemingly − efficiency-enhancing effects of vertical grants on local public service provision. The main purpose of this paper is to prepare an elaborate theoretical and empirical analysis of these contradictory results. Therefore, it investigates if certain fiscal and institutional conditions (fiscal stress, fiscal rank-preserving vertical grant systems, input- and output regulation), that might help to explain these empirical findings, are characteristic of at least some parts of the local government sector or certain regions. The German state of Saxony-Anhalt is chosen for case study purposes. The main results are: First, the local governments suffer from severe fiscal problems such as high grant dependency, low tax revenues and the prevalent inability to finance investments by own resources. Second, the output- and input-regulation density of certain mandatory municipal services (schools, childcare facilities, fire protection) is high. Finally, the most important vertical grant category for local governments, the formula-based grants (“Schlüsselzuweisungen”), can be described as mainly exogenous, unconditional block grants that in most cases preserve the relative fiscal position of the grant recipients.