Pragmatic Municipalism: US Local Government Responses to Fiscal Stress

Authors: Yunji Kim*, Graduate School of Public Administration, Seoul National University, Mildred E Warner, Cornell University, Austin M Aldag, Cornell University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: local government, fiscal stress, pragmatic municipalism, cutback management
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 59
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This article updates cutback management theory and challenges austerity urbanism theory by showing that
local governments practice pragmatic municipalism—protecting services with a balanced response to fiscal stress. Using
a 2017 national survey of 2,341 U.S. municipalities and counties, the authors identify four responses—no specific
action, cuts, revenue supplements, and deferrals. Structural equation models show that cuts are higher in places with
older infrastructure and more unemployment but not in places with more poverty. Supplemental responses are higher
in places with professional management and higher education. Deferrals are higher in places with more debt but lower
in places with older infrastructure. Localities with less fiscal stress take no specific action. Most governments combine
cuts, supplements, and deferrals; this balanced response is associated with more fiscal stress, more citizen engagement,
and higher levels of unionization. These results show that local governments practice pragmatic municipalism, not
austerity urbanism, when responding to fiscal stress.

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