Post-Recession Municipal Budgeting and Governance: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Budget Stress and Reform

Authors: Mark Davidson*, Clark University, Kevin Ward, University of Manchester
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: urban, municipal, finance, politics
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


The Great Recession made several cities austerity exemplars. Hit by large revenue losses, these cities undertook dramatic spending cuts and utilized rarely used restructuring tools, such as chapter 9 bankruptcy. This led some to speculate that austerity exemplars, cities like Detroit, were forerunners of a new round of neoliberal restructuring. Subsequent work has contested this interpretation of post-recession urban governance, arguing that cities have pursued pragmatic, not ideological, reforms. The existing literature on post-recession urban governance therefore offers contradictory accounts of how the immediate budgetary impacts of the Great Recession evolved into longer term shifts in urban governance. This paper contributes to this debate by developing a mixed methods longitudinal analysis of quantitative and qualitative municipal budget data. Quantitative data is drawn from the U.S. Census of Local Government (2006-2016) and used to identify statistical relationships between budget health and budget composition in a nationwide sample of cities. This is followed by a qualitative analysis of budget narrative data from the six most fiscally distressed large and medium sized cities. This mixed methods approach is designed to identify commonalities in post-recession urban governance (i) across cities nationwide and (ii) within a group of extreme cases. The research shows only weak national level trends in budgetary change and divergent budget narrative in extreme cases. Municipal budget stress and related restructuring is shown to be a relational phenomenon, where the particularities of place interact with broader processes, leading to contingent and conjunctural outcomes.

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