Clashes over the Coffers in the Face of Local Government Reform
The subject matter of my Ph.D. thesis is the local government reform currently underway in Denmark, and I will be presenting a draft paper on one of the problematiques in my Ph.D. dissertation. Like its predecessor some four decades ago, the current local government reform has had communal amalgamation at its centre, this time with 236 of the current 270 municipalities merging into 64 new ones, leaving 34 unaffected and giving a total of 98 new ones per 01.01.2007; furthermore, the 14 current counties are merged into 5 new regions. So what happens when political authorities cease to exist? There is a very large literature on endgames and this is what my thesis will be contributing to theoretically. I argue that there is an economics of going out of business, an economics that was all too evident in the years up to the last local government reform. The argument is that heading for the dustbin of has-beens can lead to decidedly myopic and short-sighted behavior in spite of its longer-term consequences. So much for actor incentives! On the institutional side, the incumbent government has, in contrast to its forty-year-old likewise bourgeois predecessor, been all too aware of these ‘perverse' incentives; it has therefore instigated various countermeasures to circumscribe any such financial wholesale in ‘the locals'. Regardless of the effects of these considerations, I forward the following problematique for theoretical deliberation and empirical investigation: does the municipalities' and counties' financial behavior stand out in the period leading up to the second local government reform - and if so then why? As will be explicated in later chapters, the measuring rod for ‘standing out' will be both temporal (compared to the authorities' financial dispositions in previous years) and spatial (compared to the authorities that remain unaffected by mergers). The problematique thus focuses on the new municipalities' and counties' financial standing at their moment of (re-)birth; and this thesis will try to answer how sound that foundation will be in addition to why. I intend to operationalize the authorities' financial dispositions as liquidity, near-liquid assets (sales of buildings, land and so forth), expenditures on buildings and probably also operations, borrowing, public utilities and expenditures on personnel.
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XV Nordiske Kommunalforskerkonference, Institut for Statskundskab ved Syddansk Universitet, 2006