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Project on 21st Century City Governance | Paper 1 | April 2016

Fiscal and Financial Issues

for 21st Century Cities
Background And Overview

Teresa Ter-Minassian is a senior consultant to the Global Economy and Develop-
ment program at the Brookings Institution. She is the former director of the Fiscal
Affairs Department of the International Monetary Fund.

This paper was prepared for the Project on 21st Century City Governance, a collaborative
effort of the Brookings Institution’s Centennial Scholar Initiative and the Global Economy
and Development Program.

The Brookings Institution is a private non-profit organization. Its mission is to conduct

high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative,
practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recom-
mendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect
the views of the Institution, its management, or its other scholars.

Executive summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Background paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

I. Brief literature review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

1. Selected governance issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

2. Expenditure responsibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

3. Own revenues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

4. Intergovernmental transfers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

5. Sub-national financing and fiscal sustainability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

6. Public-private partnerships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

II. Main issues to be addressed by the case studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

• Governance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

• Expenditures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

• Own revenues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

• Intergovernmental transfers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

• Debt and asset management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Fiscal and Financial Issues
for 21st Century Cities
Background And Overview


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY be assessed from a national perspective if the cities

of the future are to be better and more effectively

T he Project on 21st Century City Governance governed.

will explore solutions for successful urban
governance in today’s complex world. Many cities This first in a series of papers seeks to analyze the
face rapid urban growth, growing environmental experiences of some relatively successful cities, ini-
concerns, a clamor from citizens for better local tially in the United States and Europe, to identify
services, and other pressures, often in the face of how their governance and financing models con-
tight resource constraints. This adds urgency to the tribute to their success, and to draw lessons appli-
imperatives of effectiveness and efficiency in local cable elsewhere. It briefly summarizes the relevant
spending, and of growth-friendly, sustainable and literature on intergovernmental fiscal relations,1
equitable generation of local revenues. Successful and outlines some of the issues to be addressed in
solutions that tackle these imperatives tend to be the case studies of the selected cities.
multi-level, multi-channel, and multi-sectoral.
Although models of intergovernmental fiscal rela-
More and more, solutions to urban challenges in- tions vary widely across countries and over time,
volve creative approaches that circumvent the con- reflecting a range of historical, institutional, and
straints of traditional governmental bureaucracies socio-political, as well as economic, factors, the lit-
through greater collaboration with the private sec- erature has identified a number of principles that
tor and civil society. Yet no amount of innovation are important for the effective functioning of city
can escape the need to tackle fiscal constraints and governments.
set up mechanisms that allow for a predictable
flow of funding from national and regional gov- These include, among others, governance arrange-
ernments to cities. Mapping these arrangements ments that promote transparency and account-
presents a daunting challenge for city leaders. The ability of local officials to the electorate; effective
underlying decision-making structures and the mechanisms of cooperation with neighboring mu-
merits of governance arrangements also need to nicipalities, and with higher levels of government;

The paper also provides an extensive reference list, to facilitate further exploration of specific issues as needed.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

1 Background And Overview
clarity in the definition of local spending functions • The indicators of quality and efficiency of
and an adequate degree of autonomy in carrying its main spending programs, and the in-
them out; the assignment of significant and appro- sights they provide into the institutional
priate own-revenue sources; the avoidance of un- characteristics and managerial techniques
funded mandates; predictability of transfers from that contribute to their performance;
other levels of government; and limits on borrow- • The extent of revenue autonomy of the city,
ing that reflect the debt management and servicing and the advantages and disadvantages of
capacity of each municipality. The background pa- the main own-revenue sources, in particu-
per explores in some detail these principles, as well lar the challenges in effectively administer-
as challenges in applying them in practice. ing local property taxes;

In light of the lessons from the literature, it is pro- • The factors influencing the level and mix
posed that the case studies of the selected Europe- of intergovernmental transfers received by
an cities focus on the following broad issues: the city; and whether their characteristics
and performance conform to the theoreti-
• The nature and effectiveness of the arrange- cal desiderata;
ments for multi-level governance and coor- • The systems of control of the city’s indebt-
dination; edness, and an analysis of their effective-
• The breadth and composition of spending ness in preventing debt crises; and
responsibilities of the city government, and • The city’s experience to date with pub-
its degree of autonomy in carrying them lic-private partnerships (PPPs).

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 2
BACKGROUND PAPER This paper is intended to contribute to the project
in two main ways:

A gainst a background of growing urban-

ization, mounting demands for cities to
provide better public services, and tightening
• By providing a brief overview of what the
literature on intergovernmental fiscal rela-
resource constraints, the imperatives of bet- tions reveals about the factors that influence
ter prioritizing local spending programs and the fiscal health and sustainability, as well
improving their efficiency and effectiveness, as the effectiveness, of city governments in
as well as mobilizing resources to fund them carrying out their spending responsibilities
in an as growth-friendly, equitable, and sus- (Section I); and
tainable manner as possible, have acquired • By setting out the main questions that case
increased urgency. The Brookings Project on studies for the selected cities will try to ad-
21st Century City Governance aims to explore dress, with a view to ascertaining to what
possible answers to these imperatives by ana- extent practice does (or does not) conform
lyzing in depth the experiences of selected cit- to theory and, if not, why (Section II).
ies that appear to have been more successful in
addressing them, with an initial focus on U.S.
and European cities.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

3 Background And Overview
I. A BRIEF LITERATURE REVIEW For example, the legal status of cities (and of lo-
cal governments more generally) differs across

I t is important to emphasize from the outset that countries. In unitary ones, local governments re-
models of intergovernmental fiscal relations vary port directly to the central government; in federal
widely across countries, reflecting a range of his- ones, frequently they are under state jurisdiction.
torical, institutional, socio-political, and economic In some countries (e.g., Brazil), they have a consti-
factors. These include the unitary or federal nature tutional status of members of the federation, on a
of the country, power balances between the nation- par with the states.
al and the sub-national governments, the size and
geography of the country, its level of development, Clarity about the nature and extent of the legal
natural resource endowment, and social preferenc- powers of each level of government on decisions
es for redistribution, to name just a few. by the others is a necessary, albeit not sufficient,
condition for political accountability of elected
Even within Europe, models of intergovernmen- officials of all government levels. However, con-
tal fiscal relations range from cooperative ones stitutional dictates in this area are frequently very
in Germany and Austria, to highly decentralized general, and political disputes have prevented ade-
in Switzerland, Belgium, and Scandinavia, highly quate clarification in lower-level legislation, open-
centralized ones in the cases of Greece and Ireland, ing scope for bargaining and even judicial litiga-
and evolving (sometimes under stress) in France, tion.
Italy, and Spain. Therefore, the specific national
institutional context needs to be very much kept The greater the ambiguity about the legal frame-
in mind when analyzing a given city’s fiscal per- work of multi-level governance, the greater is the
formance. need for effective mechanisms of intergovernmen-
tal cooperation. The importance of such coopera-
Nevertheless, the literature has identified a num- tion is heightened by the ongoing worldwide trend
ber of principles that are important for the effec- towards devolution of functions and responsibili-
tive functioning of local governments2 in general ties to the sub-national levels of government, since
and of cities in particular. The nature of, and ratio- devolution increases the scope for both positive
nale for these principles are the focus of this sec- and negative externalities of sub-national policy
tion of the paper. decisions and actions.

Cooperation across and within levels of govern-

ment may require participant governments to
1. Selected governance issues
pursue policies that are different from those that
Multi-level governance arrangements vary widely would have been selected in the absence of co-
across countries. The fiscal federalism literature operation.3 Therefore, to choose to participate in
has identified clarity, accountability and intergov- cooperation arrangements, governments must be-
ernmental coordination as key desirable attributes lieve that the benefits of such arrangements out-
of such arrangements, but the interpretation of weigh the costs associated with the corresponding
these attributes and their translation into practice loss of decision-making autonomy.
are very country-specific.

 ocal governments encompass, in addition to cities, different types of jurisdictions in different countries: counties, municipalities, communes,
towns, districts, and in some countries multi-purpose metropolitan area authorities.
Bakvis and Brown, 2010.

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 4
Potential gains from cooperation involve a reduc- Given the number and diversity of local govern-
tion of adverse externalities/spillovers, and a fuller ments, it is especially challenging for them, includ-
exploitation of positive externalities and synergies ing cities, to obtain adequate voice and represen-
from participants’ actions and policies, as well as tation in multi-level cooperation fora. Therefore,
of economies of scale. Intergovernmental fiscal co- the most frequent mode of intergovernmental
operation can be beneficial in different aspects of cooperation at the local level is horizontal, involv-
policy, namely: ing multi-purpose or sectoral fora, such as asso-
ciations of different types of local governments,
• Macro-fiscal management; or inter-municipal consortia. Depending on their
• The design and reform of intergovernmen- nature, such fora aim to facilitate consensus on is-
tal fiscal arrangements; sues of common interest for the participating gov-
ernments, represent them in vertical (multi-level)
• Sectoral policies, including service deliv- fora, or promote synergies in the delivery of public
ery; and services across municipal boundaries.
• Sub-national revenue and expenditure
management.4 The governance of large metropolitan areas, which
often span many local governments, poses special
A further benefit of intergovernmental fiscal co- challenges, including ensuring adequate connec-
operation is that it facilitates the exchange of rele- tivity within the area and with the outside; dealing
vant information among participant governments, with environmental externalities; and avoiding ex-
leading to a better understanding of respective ob- cessive tax and regulatory competition (race to the
jectives and constraints, as well as the identifica- bottom) and the concentration of poor in specific
tion of viable policy synergies and trade-offs that jurisdictions, to cite just a few.5
can be taken into account in the design and im-
plementation of reform packages. This exchange The choice of governance arrangements for met-
of information and experiences also leads to the ropolitan areas reflects trade-offs between the
identification of good and bad practices by peers benefits of home rule (proximity and greater ac-
who face similar policy challenges. countability of the smaller municipal governments
to their electorate) and those of area-wide gover-
Despite its potential benefits, intergovernmental nance (reduction of externalities, better exploita-
fiscal cooperation typically faces significant po- tion of synergies and economies of scale,6 and
litical economy obstacles. An important one is greater scope for redistributive policies within the
the heterogeneity of sub-national governments area). Different countries choose different balanc-
as regards size, level of socio-economic develop- es between these trade-offs, often reflecting histor-
ment, production structure, etc., which can make ical traditions and political preferences more than
it difficult to identify win-win policy options. economic considerations.
Also, differences in political affiliations of the
sub-national governments may hinder coopera- There are three possible stylized models of gov-
tion among them. ernance of metropolitan areas: jurisdictional

S ee Ter-Minassian and de Mello (2016) for details. This paper also includes a review and discussion of IFC arrangements in a range of advanced
and emerging countries.
See Bahl, Linn and Wetzel, eds. (2013) for a comprehensive discussion of these challenges, particularly in emerging and developing countries.
A 2013 book by Lago-Penas and Martinez-Vazquez, eds. includes a number of papers that examine the scope for economies of scale in the
delivery of public services and its implications for optimal size of local governments.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

5 Background And Overview
fragmentation; functional fragmentation; and 2. Expenditure responsibilities
metropolitan government.7 Under the first, each of
the governments encompassed by a metropolitan Traditional (first-generation) theories of fiscal fed-
area largely maintain autonomy in the provision of eralism8 emphasized the potential efficiency gains
all or most public services in its jurisdiction. Un- from fiscal decentralization. Based on the key as-
der the second, the delivery of one or more types sumptions of benevolent governments, differenc-
of area-wide public services is entrusted to a public es in preferences, and significant citizen mobility,
company or a special district government, to en- theorists argued that expenditure functions should
sure coordination and exploit economies of scale be assigned to the lowest level of government ca-
in the provision of those services. Under the third, pable of internalizing the benefits from those
most general public services are provided by an ar- functions (the subsidiarity principle). This would
ea-wide government, which overlays the constitu- improve preference matching, because local gov-
ent local governments. ernments can be expected to know their citizens’
preferences better than the central government,
In practice, country experiences lie along a contin- and because citizens unsatisfied with their local
uum among the three models, including elements government’s performance can vote local officials
of two or even all three of them, in different bal- out of office, or even move to a different locality
ances. For example, most U.S. metropolitan areas, (“vote with their feet”).
some Scandinavian ones, Paris, Mexico City, and
Sao Paulo approximate a model of jurisdictional The normative prescriptions of first-generation
fragmentation. Most metropolitan areas have theories have been subject to a broad array of crit-
some elements of the functional fragmentation icisms, especially over the past two decades. Sec-
model (at least in the public transport area), but ond-generation theories9 have focused on political
some (e.g., Vancouver) delegate a range of func- economy influences on decentralization processes,
tions to an area-wide district authority. A num- such as:
ber of metropolitan areas (e.g., Toronto, Madrid,
London, Auckland, and Tokyo) are examples of • Political motivations for decentralization
the third model. Some of these latter areas, howev- and its timing, pace, and sequencing, that
er, have a status of intermediate government level go well beyond a quest for efficiency gains in
(state, province, or comunidad autónoma) resource allocation. Such motivations may
include helping keep countries together in
The more fragmented the governance model, the the face of ethnic or other conflicts; reduc-
greater the need for mechanisms to promote co- ing “excessive” powers of central govern-
operation among the municipal governments in- ment; and promoting “yardstick” competi-
cluded in a metropolitan area. An analysis of the tion among or within government levels;
nature of such mechanisms and their effectiveness • Representation failures in electoral pro-
in the cities included in the Brookings 21st Centu- cesses, reflecting voters’ information asym-
ry Cities Project should provide useful lessons in metries and the power of economic elites to
this respect. buy influence;10 and
• De facto limitations to citizens’ mobility.

Bahl, Linn and Wetzel, eds. (2013).
See Tiebout, 1956, and Musgrave, 1959, among others.
See Quian and Weingast, 1997, Oates, 2005, and Weingast, 2009. Ahmad and Brosio (2006) provide an extensive review of such theories.
See e.g., Bardhan (2006).

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 6
Second-generation theories have also called atten- programs. Higher-level governments can strongly
tion to the influence of incentives, institutions, and influence these decisions through regulation and
capacity constraints on the extent of decentraliza- conditional grants.14 A 2009 study by the OECD15
tion, and on its success in delivering the hoped-for developed a number of indicators of sub-national
efficiency gains. spending autonomy in various functional areas,
and concluded that such autonomy is more limited
Against this background, it is not surprising to find than expenditure shares would suggest, especially
that there are substantial differences in the assign- in the education area.
ment of spending responsibilities to each (central,
regional, and local) level of government among While, for the reasons mentioned above, the fiscal
countries, even of similar levels of development. federalism literature eschews normative prescrip-
For example, among the OECD (Organization tions about the desirable degree of effective devo-
for Economic Co-operation and Development) lution of spending responsibilities to sub-national
countries for which consolidated data on local (including local) governments, it emphasizes the
expenditures are available,11 such expenditures as importance of clarity in the assignment of spend-
proportion of GDP average about 13 percent, but ing powers in each functional area. In particular,
range between 3.3 percent in Greece and over 35 it should be specified in appropriately high-level
percent in Denmark. Within countries, typically legislation which level of government can override
larger cities and metropolitan areas are responsi- decisions by the other(s) in areas of concurrent
ble for a broader range of functions than smaller responsibilities, and under what circumstances it
or rural localities. can do so.

There are also large differences in the composi- Such clarity is a necessary condition for political
tion of local spending. Most local governments accountability of elected officials. Simply put, cit-
are responsible for local transportation, sanitation, izens should know which level of government is
street lighting, parks and other recreational facil- responsible for the adequacy and quality of the
ities, and some social assistance programs. Their public services provided to them. However, clar-
roles in education and health, however, vary sig- ity alone is not sufficient because, to hold elected
nificantly across countries and over time.12 Ac- officials accountable, citizens need adequate infor-
cordingly, the shares of different functions in local mation about the use of public resources entrusted
spending show a large variance even among ad- to those officials, including information about the
vanced countries.13 effectiveness and efficiency of spending programs,
and about their fiscal sustainability over time.16
Moreover, such shares record the level of expendi-
tures carried out by local governments, but tell us Unfortunately, especially in developing coun-
little about the autonomy of local governments in tries, many local governments, in particular small
deciding the composition of their budget, and the ones, lack adequate public financial management
design and implementation of specific spending (PFM)17 capacity, in terms of both skills and

S ee the OECD’s Fiscal Federalism Network website ( Among the countries for which such consolidated data are not currently
available are Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.
There has been a move to re-centralize primary and secondary education in some countries in recent years (e.g., Mexico and Chile).
McMillan (2008).
See Devarajan, Khemani and Shah (2009) for a discussion of the politics and consequences of such “partial decentralization.”
Bach, Blochliger and Wallau (2009).
Ahmad (2015).
PFM encompasses budget preparation and execution, cash and debt management, accounting, reporting and dissemination of a government’s
fiscal operations.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

7 Background And Overview
systems. As a result, the quality and transparency The literature also recognizes significant econom-
of fiscal operations leaves much to be desired.18 ic, institutional, and political obstacles to sub-na-
This is even more the case as regards indicators of tional own-revenue mobilization. The economic
effectiveness and efficiency of specific local spend- obstacles include the following:
ing programs.19 Moreover, frequently civic society
is not developed enough to act as a watchdog and • The greater mobility of potential tax bases
an educator of the public at large in this area. (goods and factors of production) within
the national territory than across national
Nevertheless, there is evidence that these deficien- borders. This increases the scope for tax
cies are less widespread in relatively large cities, evasion and for predatory tax competition
and that in fact the quality of public management among sub-national jurisdictions; and
and delivery of services in some of them is as good • The generally uneven distribution of the
as or better than at higher levels of government.20 tax bases across the national territory. As
The present project, focusing on a number of suc- a consequence, sole reliance on own reve-
cessful cities, should provide an opportunity to nues would result in excessive disparities in
identify both indicators of quality and efficiency the ability of individual sub-national gov-
of their spending, and insights into institution- ernments to finance the provision of com-
al characteristics and managerial techniques that mon minimum standards of public services
contribute to their good performance. in important areas such as health, educa-
tion, and basic infrastructures. However,
differences in tax capacities can be at least
3. Own revenues21 partly compensated for by a well-designed
system of intergovernmental equalization
The literature on fiscal decentralization has tra-
transfers (see sub-section 4 below).
ditionally emphasized the benefits of assigning
significant own-revenue sources to sub-national
The institutional obstacles to sub-national own-rev-
governments on both macroeconomic and effi-
enue mobilization include:
ciency grounds. Potential macroeconomic bene-
fits include: the creation of additional fiscal space
• The fact that central tax administrations are
for the provision of sub-national public goods
better positioned than sub-national ones to
and services; the promotion of sub-national fiscal
exploit economies of scale in the collection
responsibility;22 and a reduction of volatility and
and enforcement of taxes. They also tend
uncertainty for sub-national budgets. Potential
to be better equipped in terms of financial
efficiency gains include a closer reflection of local
and human resources. Moreover, capacities
preferences in the level and structure of taxation,
to effectively administer own taxes tend
and increased political accountability of sub-na-
to vary substantially among sub-national
tional budget authorities to their electorates.

S ud and Yilmaz (2013) note that a major reason for the lack of capacity at the local level is inadequacy of the civil service, which tends to be less
prestigious and less well paid than at the central government level.
There is a substantial literature about the nature and desirable characteristics of performance indicators of spending programs. See e.g.,
Robinson (2007) and (2013), Esfahani (2005), Hatry (2005), and Garcia Lopez and Garcia Moreno (2011).
See World Bank (2009) and Bahl, Linn and Wetzel (2013).
Own revenues refer here to those for which sub-national governments enjoy substantive autonomy in deciding at least the rate structure.
Accordingly, revenues shared with higher levels of government on an origin or other basis are not considered own revenues, but transfers.
There is considerable empirical evidence that the lack of significant revenue autonomy softens the sub-national budget constraint. See e.g.,
Eyraud and Lusinyan (2011), Escolano and others (2012), and Asatryan and others (2012).

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 8
governments, often compounding the government levels and/or macroeconomic man-
above-mentioned differences in tax bases. agement imperatives.
Also, compliance costs for taxpayers (espe-
cially those operating in multiple sub-national There is a vast literature discussing the criteria that
jurisdictions) are magnified by the existence should guide the assignment of specific forms of
of differences in sub-national tax legislations revenues to sub-national governments.27 Theoreti-
and tax administration procedures. cal considerations, as well as lessons from country
experiences, suggest that desirable characteristics
Finally, there are important political economy of sub-national taxes include: relatively low mo-
constraints to revenue decentralization: bility of the tax base; avoidance of distortions and
risks of adverse spillovers on other jurisdictions
• Central governments tend to prefer main- (e.g., tax exporting, or predatory tax competition);
taining control of the main tax bases, both a relatively even distribution of the tax base across
to facilitate the conduct of revenue-based the national territory; significant revenue-raising
stabilization policies and to influence potential; low sensitivity to cyclical fluctuations
sub-national spending decisions; and and other exogenous shocks; relative ease of ad-
• Sub-national governments often prefer to ministration; and low compliance costs.
rely on transfers (especially unconditional
ones) to avoid the political cost of raising No revenue source meets all these criteria, as can
own revenues. be seen from Table 1, which uses a matrix to score
(as high, medium, or low) the conformity of each
The balance between the benefits and costs of potential sub-national own-revenue source (per-
revenue decentralization varies both across coun- sonal (PIT) or corporate (CIT) income taxes; sur-
tries and over time, reflecting a host of changing charges on national income taxes; retail sales tax
economic, institutional, and political conditions. (RST); turnover taxes; a value-added tax (VAT); a
As a result, it is difficult to find robust empirical subtraction VAT-type business tax; excises; prop-
explanations of the degree of revenue decentral- erty taxes; royalties from natural resources; and
ization. It does not appear to be clearly correlated user fees and charges) with the above-mentioned
with the (federal or unitary) form of government;23 desirability criteria (with the caveat that specific
the level of development;24 the composition of economic or institutional circumstances may af-
GDP; the degree of dependence on revenues fect scoring in individual countries).28 Therefore,
from non-renewable natural resources;25 or even the composition of sub-national own revenues in
the degree of decentralized spending.26 Moreover, individual countries tends to reflect the evolving
revenue decentralization has not always followed trade-offs that each country makes in light of its
a monotonic trend, as some countries have gone relevant economic, social, political, and institu-
through phases of decentralization and re-central- tional circumstances.
ization, reflecting shifting power balances among

A number of unitary countries are more decentralized than some of the large federations.
The degree of revenue decentralization varies significantly among OECD countries (see Blochliger and Nettley (2015)), as well as among major
emerging and low-income countries (Fedelino and Ter-Minassian (2010)).
See Brosio (2006).
Vertical gaps, and relatedly the level of intergovernmental transfers, vary greatly both across countries and over time.
Among the best summaries of this literature are Ambrosanio and Bordignon (2015), and Bird (2010).
For a detailed explanation of the scores, see Chapter 1 of Fretes and Ter-Minassian, eds. (2015).

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

9 Background And Overview
Table 1: Scoring of potential sub-national revenue sources by different criteria

Potential efficiency

Sensitivity to cycle
Revenue potential

Compliance costs
Even distribution
Mobility of tax

of tax base

Costs of

Revenue Source/Features
PIT surcharge V L L M/H L/M L L M M
Turnover taxes H L H M/H M M M M/L H
Business VAT M M/H M/H M/H L M M M M
Excises M M M/H M L M L L M/H
Property taxes V L L L L H M H L
“Green” taxes and fees L L L L M H M H M
Royalties H L L H L M M H H
User fees M L/M L L M M M H M
H: high; M: medium; L: low; V: varying

The variety of own-revenue sources tends to be an important determinant of the low yield of the
greater at the intermediate than at local level of taxes (generally well below 1 percent of GDP in
government. Most cities use various forms of aggregate).
property taxes and user fees. Some use local RSTs
(often piggybacking on state-level ones), and fewer Even in advanced countries, where their revenues
use local income taxes (often as surcharges on state average over 2 percent of GDP, real estate taxes
or central government taxes). often face stronger taxpayer resistance than other
forms of taxation. This reflects the relatively high
There is a large literature on the advantages and visibility of the tax; widespread perceptions of in-
disadvantages of recurrent real estate taxes.29 Such equities in valuation; and the fact that property
taxes are generally viewed as a good example of values are not always correlated with the income
benefit taxation, as property values tend to re- of their owners, resulting in liquidity constraints,
flect the level and quality of the local public ser- exacerbated by the lumpy nature of their collec-
vices.30 They are also levied on an immobile factor tion. Also, taxes on property transfers are seen as
of production, and are relatively more stable over reducing the liquidity of real estate markets.
economic cycles than most other taxes. However,
these taxes are costly to administer, given the need Faced with such resistance, cities worldwide
to build and maintain current the property cadas- have been experimenting in recent decades
ters. In many developing countries, such costs are with innovations in property taxation, aimed at

S ee e.g., Bahl , Martinez Vazquez and Youngman (2010); Sjoquist and Stephenson(2010); Bonet, Munoz and Pineda Mannheim (2015). The
database of the OECD Fiscal Federalism Network contains a summary description of the main characteristics of recurrent real estate taxes
in OECD countries. McCluskey and Franzen (2013) provide a comprehensive discussion of challenges in the design and administration of
property taxes in metropolitan areas.
See Ahmad, Brosio and Poschl (2015).

Global Economy and Development at Brookings

Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 10
capturing increases in property values stemming constrained by the scope for cross-border shop-
from local infrastructure improvements. Exam- ping in neighboring localities. Property taxes on
ples of these innovations (generically dubbed vehicles are extensively used by cities worldwide,
betterment levies) are development impact fees but they cannot be considered green taxes, since
(one-time levies assessed on developers during they are levied on the value of the vehicle, and
the permit approval process), and the setting up of therefore can discourage the acquisition of more
tax increment financing (TIF) districts.31 Although recent, energy efficient models.
comprehensive studies of their effectiveness are not
yet available, these innovations are generally seen User fees appear to be a still relatively unexploited
as a promising instrument to improve the accept- source of revenue for local governments. OECD
ability and yield of property taxation. data indicate that they range from around 0.6
percent of total local revenues in Greece and Is-
Local RSTs are more loosely linked to benefits than rael to nearly 10 percent in Finland, but cluster in
residence-based local income taxes. They aim to the range of 2 percent to 5 percent in most other
capture the benefit provided by cities to non-res- OECD countries. User fees score very well on the
idents that commute regularly to the city for work benefit principle, but not necessarily on the abili-
or business. Their main disadvantages are the re- ty-to-pay one. As a matter of fact, they can be re-
gressivity inherent to consumption taxes and the gressive. Their high degree of visibility increases
difficulty administering them in countries (mainly political accountability for the use of the resources
developing) characterized by very fragmented re- they generate, but also social resistance to signifi-
tail sectors and high degrees of informality. Local cant discrete hikes in them.
RSTs are also very susceptible to horizontal com-
petition among neighboring jurisdictions. Another innovative deployment of user fees in-
volves setting up business improvement districts
Although in principle personal income taxes on (BIDs), which are local organizations into which
residents should be good candidates, especially for local business and property owners pay addition-
cities that have a relatively large potential tax base, al mandatory fees or taxes to help fund improved
their scope is frequently limited by both vertical public services in the area. Such innovations have
and horizontal tax competition. Piggybacking can been instrumental in promoting the redevelop-
substantially reduce their costs of administration, ment of downtown or other deteriorated areas in
but constrains the autonomy of the city in defining a number of cities.
the base of the tax.
The case studies proposed for the Brookings 21st
A promising, but still largely underdeveloped, Century Cities Project should offer valuable op-
source of own revenues are green taxes and fees portunities to analyze the own-revenues compo-
(e.g., congestion charges, effluent charges, etc.). sition of successful cities, including their use of
These are desirable on efficiency and environmen- innovative instruments; assess their effectiveness
tal sustainability grounds, but are costly to ad- in overcoming obstacles to efficient and equita-
minister and, depending on the ideological bent ble revenue mobilization; and draw lessons useful
of local politicians and their constituency, are fre- elsewhere.
quently contentious. Local taxes on gasoline are

 urge (2010) and Brooks and Meltzer (2010) provide extensive discussions of development impact fees and TIFs, respectively. See also Sjoquist
and Stephenson (2010) for a comparison of these instruments with other local revenue sources.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

11 Background And Overview
4. Intergovernmental transfers redistribution objectives. Revenue-sharing
arrangements have the advantages of being
Intergovernmental transfers represent an im- relatively transparent and minimizing dis-
portant source of revenue for most sub-national cretionality, but at the cost of transmitting
governments worldwide, although their weight cyclical fluctuations in national revenues to
in total revenues varies widely across and within the sub-national budgets. This, in conjunc-
countries, as well as over time.32 Transfers can ful- tion with borrowing constraints, tends to
fill different objectives: Filling the gaps between result in pro-cyclicality of the sub-national
sub-national expenditure responsibilities and own finances.33 To minimize such pro-cyclicality,
revenues (vertical imbalances); reducing horizon- it would be desirable to base the transfers on
tal imbalances by equalizing the capacity of dif- cyclically adjusted revenues or on a moving
ferent sub-national governments to provide the average of past revenues.
services of their responsibility at an average lev-
el of own-revenue effort and spending efficiency • Equalization transfers. Properly designed
(equalization transfers); helping fund sub-national equalization transfers should take into ac-
expenditures (e.g., in health and education) that count both relative revenue-raising capacities
have spillover effects on other sub-national ju- and spending needs and differential costs of
risdictions, or expenditures that are regarded as provision of public services of the different
national (or state) priorities by the donor govern- sub-national governments in a particular
ment; or finally, fulfilling political goals. country. This is only feasible in countries
with well-developed databases, and is quite
Intergovernmental transfers take many different resource intensive.34 Therefore, many coun-
forms, with features that make them best suited tries only try to equalize revenue capacities
to one or other of the objectives above. The main (e.g., Canada) or spending needs (e.g., South
types of transfers are: Africa), or use proxies of either variable. Most
equalization transfer arrangements are verti-
• Various types of revenue sharing. These cal (i.e., based on transfers from higher-level
may encompass one or more specific reve- governments) but a few countries (e.g., Ger-
nue sources of the higher-level government, many and Chile) use horizontal ones.35
or be a percentage of its general revenue. • Conditional transfers (grants). These are
Typically these transfers are determined by earmarked to specific purposes of vary-
formula (which may be subject to periodic ing scope. Bloc transfers are used to fund
revisions, or even altered unilaterally by the spending programs in broad functional
transferring government). Revenue-shar- areas (e.g., education, or health), while
ing arrangements are common worldwide, special-purpose transfers are limited to
with the exception of the U.S., but their financing specific spending programs.
weight in total transfers varies widely. These Conditional transfers are most appropriate
transfers mainly aim to fill vertical imbal- to fund sub-national spending with spill-
ances, but in many countries their horizon- overs, in which case they are frequently
tal distribution formula is also shaped by accompanied by matching requirements.

 ere is a vast literature on intergovernmental transfers. See, e.g., Ahmad (1997); Ahmad and Brosio, eds. (2006) and (2015); Bergvall and
others (2006), and Boadway and Shah (2007).
See e.g., Bohn and Inman (1996), Fatas and Mihov (2006) and Ter-Minassian and Fedelino (2010).
Australia has the most comprehensive equalization scheme, funded by the proceeds of the national VAT, and administered by the
Commonwealth Grants Commission. See Ahmad and Searle (2006). Some European countries (especially Scandinavian ones) also use
comprehensive equalization transfers.
For thorough discussions of the complexities of designing sound equalization transfers, see Wilson (2007) and Reschovsky (2007).

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 12
They may also be used to help relatively 5. Sub-national borrowing and fiscal
poorer sub-national governments meet min- sustainability
imum national standards in the provision of
important social services. To minimize their Sub-national governments worldwide are responsi-
intrusiveness, conditionality should apply ble for substantial shares of investment in social and
to the results (outputs or outcomes) of the productive infrastructures, which cannot be financed
spending programs, not their input mix. It solely with recurrent revenues, given their lumpiness
is also important that these transfers have and the fact that they provide benefits to future, as
a clear legal foundation, setting out their well as current, taxpayers. As a result, debt financing
characteristics and conditions, to minimize of sub-national (including cities’) investments has
uncertainty for the receiving governments. been historically, and continues to be, quite wide-
spread. This financing takes different forms, ranging
• Capital transfers. These are used to fi- from bank borrowing to general or earmarked bond
nance (or co-finance) sub-national invest- issues, and to foreign borrowing, either directly or
ment spending (in areas such as housing, through the central government (or with the latter’s
other social infrastructures, transporta- guarantee). More recently, intermediate and local
tion, and other productive infrastructures). governments, especially in advanced countries, have
These may be formula-based, often privi- begun to utilize more complex, and frequently rather
leging objectives of regional development, opaque, borrowing instruments, including through
or project-based (with varying degrees of special purpose vehicles (SPVs).38
conditionality regarding the selection and
execution of the projects). While there are benefits—in terms of fiscal space,
• Discretionary ad-hoc transfers. These are intergenerational equity, and the development of
often motivated by political considerations, domestic capital markets—from sub-national bor-
including to bailout sub-national jurisdic- rowing for investment, there are also risks that
tions in difficulty. They are a major source unfettered recourse to debt financing may lead
of soft budget constraint,36 and as such their to sub-national fiscal stress and even debt crises.
use should be minimized. As a matter of fact, there is a substantial and pro-
longed history of sub-national debt crises, not only
Specifically as regards intergovernmental transfers in emerging and developing countries, but also in
to cities, the available empirical evidence suggests advanced ones.39
that both the level and composition of per-capita
transfers received vary widely, with no clear re- Such crises have painful effects, in terms of dis-
lation to size, population density, and local fiscal ruption of public services, for the citizens of the
capacities and spending needs.37 The case studies sub-national jurisdiction involved, and can also
in the Brookings 21st Century Cities Project will generate adverse spillovers on other sub-nation-
offer an opportunity to analyze which factors in- al governments (increases in borrowing costs, or
fluence the level and mix of transfers received by temporary difficulties in market access) and even
each of the cities studied; and whether their char- on the national government (sometimes precipi-
acteristics and performance conform to the theo- tating a national debt crisis, or at least increasing
retical considerations summarized above. the cost of sovereign borrowing).40

See Rao (2006) and Vigneault (2007).
See Slack (2007) for a summary of available empirical studies.
See Chapman (2010) for a discussion of such instruments used by cities in the U.S.; and Wong (2013) for an analysis of experiences with SPVs
in China.
See Canuto and Liu, eds. (2007).
This was, for example, the case in Brazil and Argentina in the late 1990s.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

13 Background And Overview
For these reasons, most countries have sought to Table 2: Sub-national fiscal rules in the
put in place more or less restrictive frameworks OECD
to regulate sub-national borrowing. These frame-

Taxation Limit
works vary significantly in their details, but can be

Balance Rule

grouped into three broad categories:41


Sole or primary reliance on the discipline of fi- Sub-Central Government
nancial markets. To be effective in ensuring the Australia state X X X X
sustainability of sub-national borrowing, this ap- Australia local X X
proach requires a number of demanding precondi- Austria state X
tions, including: a consistent record of no bailouts Austria local X
of sub-national governments in financial difficulty Belgium state X X
by higher-level governments; well-developed, com- Belgium local X X X
petitive financial markets; no privileged channels of Canada state X
access by sub-national governments to credit; ade-
Canada local X X X
quate information on the sub-national borrowers’
Chile X X
accounts, including on contingent and future long-
Czech Republic X X
term liabilities; and early responsiveness of sub-na-
tional politicians to market signals. Since these con- Denmark X X X X

ditions are rarely met in practice, market discipline Estonia X X

alone has often proven ineffective in preventing Finland X X
sub-national fiscal stress and crises.42 Germany state X X
Germany local X X
• Discretionary arrangements, whereby the Ireland X X
sub-national borrowing limits are either Italy state X X X
negotiated between the higher and lower Italy local X X X
levels of government, or imposed by the Korea X X
former. These types of arrangements open Mexico state X
significant scope for political bargaining
Mexico local X
and ultimately for soft budget constraints.
New Zealand X X X
• Rule-based controls. These have become Norway X X X
increasingly popular in recent decades, as Poland X X
witnessed by the very rapid growth of the
Slovak Republic X X
number of countries that have adopted one
Slovenia X X X
or more sub-national fiscal rules.43
Spain state X X
• The most frequent combination of rules is Spain local X X X
one of budget balance and debt limits, but
Sweden X
many countries are adopting expenditure
Switzerland state X X
rules as well (see Table 2).
Switzerland local X X
Turkey X X

See Ter-Minassian and Craig (1997) and Ter-Minassian (2015) for a more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of the different models.
The most successful example of full reliance on market discipline is considered to be that of the Canadian provinces. Even in their cases,
however, market discipline has not obviated the need for abrupt adjustments in provincial budgets, especially during commodity price cycles.
See Sutherland and others (2006), and Schaechter and others (2012).

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 14
It must be recognized that, while preferable to un- political and social support for them; the robust-
fettered borrowing and to discretionary controls, ness of their legal basis; the soundness of their de-
fiscal rules are not a magic bullet for ensuring ade- sign; the state of the sub-national public financial
quate fiscal discipline. Their effectiveness depends management (PFM) systems; and the firmness of
on a number of factors, in particular: the extent of their enforcement (see Box 1).

Box 1: Main challenges in designing and implementing effective sub-national fiscal rules

 Design issues

o Self- or centrally-imposed rules?

Rules that are self-adopted by sub-national governments may enjoy greater “ownership” than those
imposed by higher-level ones, but may not ensure a sustainable aggregate sub-national fiscal balance
or debt.

o Coverage
To ensure adequate sub-national fiscal discipline, the fiscal rules must cover all operations of the
sub-national governments, including those of their enterprises, agencies, or special-purpose vehicles.

o Nature of targets/limits
Rules targeting the overall fiscal balance may not accommodate an adequate level of sub-national in-
vestment. However, rules targeting the current fiscal balance (golden rule) are not sufficient to ensure
fiscal sustainability. They need to be combined with rules limiting the size of the sub-national debt
relative to revenues.

o Degree of flexibility
Fiscal rules should provide adequate flexibility to:

 Avoid fiscal pro-cyclicality. This is increasingly done at the central government level by tar-
geting the cyclically adjusted (or structural) fiscal balance. But, the technical difficulties of
estimating structural balances in real time are even greater at the sub-national than at the
central government level; and

 Accommodate unpredictable exogenous shocks (e.g., the fiscal impact of natural disasters).
This can be done through well-specified escape clauses.

 Implementation issues

o The state of sub-national PFM systems is of crucial importance. Key ingredients are:

 Adequate capacity to forecast revenues and non-discretionary expenditures. This is especially

difficult when sub-national governments depend heavily on discretionary transfers ;

 Sub-national information systems that generate sufficiently comprehensive, reliable, and

timely data on the budget execution to allow the adoption of corrective measures before the
rules are violated;

 Sound accounting and reporting systems that ensure adequate transparency of sub-national
fiscal operations.

o To be effective, the rules must be supported by appropriate enforcement mechanisms:

 Clear, non-discretionary, and firmly applied sanctions for non-compliance; and

 Requirements that violations of the rule should be corrected within a pre-specified period.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

15 Background And Overview
In light of the difficulties of designing and imple- An approach to preventing the need for bailouts
menting effective systems of controls of sub-na- that is gaining increasing popularity is the adop-
tional borrowing, and of the above-mentioned tion of formal ex-ante frameworks for sub-nation-
adverse consequences of sub-national fiscal crises, al debt resolution that set out pre-specified rules
there is also a long history of bailouts of sub-na- for the allocation of default costs. The U.S. has
tional governments in difficulty by higher-level such a framework for local governments (the so-
governments. These can take different forms: dis- called Chapter IX). So does Hungary, which en-
cretionary gap-filling budgetary transfers or loans; acted a Municipal Bankruptcy Act in 1996. South
the assumption and restructuring of the sub-na- Africa did so in 2003.
tional debt by the central government (typically
involving a reduction of its net present value); or Specifically, formal insolvency frameworks aim to
even outright forgiveness of the debt. clarify how, in the event of a sub-national default,
the debt will be restructured in an orderly manner;
Sub-national bailouts are costly, not only because which essential public services will be maintained
they entail additional financial burdens for the cen- and how; and what structural adjustment mea-
tral government and, when large, can jeopardize sures must be undertaken by the defaulting juris-
the latter’s creditworthiness and medium-term fis- diction to restore its solvency.
cal sustainability, but also because they give rise to
moral hazard and thus further soften the sub-na- If appropriately designed and implemented, such
tional budget constraint. The degree of such moral frameworks can provide a number of benefits by:
hazard depends on their frequency and the sever-
ity of the conditions attached to them. Bailouts in-
volving a temporary takeover of the sub-national • Helping reduce disruption in the provision
government in question by higher level author- of public services, and the related political
ities, the dismissal and possibly penalization of pressures for bailouts;
the sub-national officials involved, and a firm en- • Facilitating orderly workouts, minimizing
forcement of often painful fiscal adjustment mea- problems stemming from holdout creditors;
sures, are less likely to provide incentives to other • Facilitating the eventual return of default-
sub-national governments for fiscal irresponsi- ing jurisdictions to credit markets; and
bility. International experience regarding bailout
conditionality ranges from little to none (e.g., in • Helping prevent both sub-national gov-
Argentina), to some but weakly enforced (e.g., in ernments’ and lenders’ expectations of
pre-1996 bailouts in Brazil and in Mexico), and to bailouts, thus effectively hardening sub-na-
a firmly enforced one (as in the municipal bailouts tional soft budget constraints.
in the U.S. and the 1996-7 one in Brazil).
The design of insolvency frameworks must bal-
Also crucial in determining the extent of moral haz- ance the protection of creditor rights with that of
ard created by a bailout is whether or not it is accom- core functions of the sub-national governments
panied by strengthened preventive measures, in par- involved. It should also create sufficient politi-
ticular institutional reforms such as the adoption or cal costs for leaders of defaulting jurisdictions to
strengthening of sub-national fiscal rules, measures minimize moral hazard. Such frameworks require
to increase the transparency and reliability of sub-na- consideration and definition of many complex is-
tional budget information, and steps to reduce discre- sues,44 including:
tionality in intergovernmental fiscal arrangements.

See Liu and Waibel (2010) for details.

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Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 16
• The role of the judiciary. While Chapter IX resolution, of debt difficulties in the respective cities.
in the U.S. and Hungary’s legal insolvency As such, they should provide valuable insights into
mechanism deal with insolvency through how the challenges briefly illustrated above are being
the courts, South Africa’s legal framework met within the specific economic and institutional
is a hybrid, envisaging administrative in- context of the country, and offer lessons for other cit-
tervention in the early stages of debt dis- ies in comparable environments.
tress, followed by judicial intervention if
the latter degenerates into insolvency;
• Who can file for bankruptcy? The class of 6. Public-private partnerships
eligible filers differs across countries;45
Faced with very large demands for infrastruc-
• The specific triggering procedures; ture in an environment of tight budget con-
• The creditors’ majority required to bail-in straints, many governments at both the national
holdouts; and the sub-national levels have made increasing
use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in re-
• The order of priority of claims (typically
cent decades. Country experiences suggest that
wage or pension arrears, followed by se-
PPPs are best suited for economic infrastruc-
cured credits, and lastly unsecured ones);
ture, such as highways and ports. However, in
• Conditionality. This also varies across some countries (e.g., U.K.) they have also been
countries, with the U.S. Chapter IX being used successfully for certain social infrastruc-
relatively stricter in this respect.46 tures, such as hospitals, schools, and prisons.

The design of insolvency frameworks must take into PPPs are contracts for the construction, opera-
account, among other things, relevant characteris- tion, and maintenance of infrastructures, which
tics of a country’s legal system (including the con- combine a fixed-price/no-payments-in-progress
stitutional status of sub-national governments and component with a long-term service one. The
their relations with the higher level government(s)); contractor of a productive or social infrastruc-
the state of the judicial system; and the size and ca- ture project is paid after construction through
pacity of the jurisdictions involved. Highly complex service payments over the life of the contract. The
frameworks can result in prohibitive legal costs for asset may be owned by the government from the
smaller jurisdictions. On the other hand, they can outset, or by the contractor until the end of the
also encourage both municipalities in difficulty contract.
and their creditors to seek extra-judicial resolution
mechanisms such as arbitration. The main reason for a government to choose a PPP
over conventional procurement (design-and-con-
The case studies for the Brookings 21st Century Cit- struct contracts) should be the efficiency gains that
ies Project are likely to present a variety of arrange- can be obtained through a well-designed and im-
ments for the prevention, and possibly for an orderly plemented PPP.47 These gains include:

I n the United States, only the municipality in distress can file for bankruptcy under Chapter IX, conditional on being insolvent, having worked
or attempted to work out a plan to deal with its debts, and having been authorized by the state to file for bankruptcy. In South Africa, any
creditor can file a claim against the municipality. Similarly, in Hungary, a creditor can petition the court if a municipality is in arrears for more
than 60 days.
Chapter IX is designed to carry a strong stigma for the distressed municipality, to minimize moral hazard. In addition to the financial costs,
there are significant political ones. State laws in the United States for distressed municipalities commonly provide for a transfer of control over
municipal affairs.
For more detailed discussions of the attributes of sound PPPs, see Schwarz, Corbacho and Funke (2008), European Investment Bank (2010),
and OECD (2008) and (2012).

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

17 Background And Overview
• A reduction of whole-of-life costs for the • Appropriate administrative structures
project: A contractor who carries both the within the government, including skilled
risks of construction of the project and of sectoral staff dedicated to overseeing the
performance in the delivery of the sub- design and implementation of PPPs, and
sequent services has the right incentive a “gateway” analysis and review process
to optimize construction costs, so as to by the government’s unit responsible for
minimize the subsequent operation and the budget (the ministry of finance or its
maintenance costs of the project, consis- sub-national equivalent);
tent with the pre-specified performance • Systematic use of sound cost-benefit analysis
standards; of proposed projects, to ensure adequate rates
• Minimizing the risk of cost overruns and of economic and social return; and of public
delays: since no progress payments are sector comparators, to inform the choice be-
made during construction, and the service tween PPPs and direct public procurement;
payments are determined at the outset, the • Preparation of clear, unambiguous con-
contractor has an incentive to avoid delays tracts, to help reduce the risk of lengthy
and cost escalation during construction; and costly renegotiations;48
• Greater certainty and transparency of • Open, competitive, and transparent pro-
whole-of-life costs for the project; cedures for bidding and awarding of con-
• Contrary to widespread belief, financing tracts. The awarding of contracts should
considerations should not be important, be based on quality and reliability, not just
since in general the public sector can bor- pricing considerations;
row at lower rates than the private sector. • A predictable and non-discriminatory reg-
ulatory environment.
PPPs, however, have disadvantages too, in particu-
lar high project preparation and contracting costs, Unfortunately, these requisites are not always met,
and difficulties in pre-specifying appropriate per- especially in sub-national governments, a fact that
formance standards. It is therefore very important explains the heterogeneous record of performance
that governments undertaking PPPs have well-de- of PPPs to date (including cost overruns and fre-
veloped institutional capacities and appropriate quent contract renegotiations).
processes to handle such projects, including:
Crucial to the success of PPPs is an appropriate
• A clear and sound legal framework, estab- sharing of risks between the public and the private
lishing the basic requirements for PPPs partners. In principle, each type of risk should be
and mechanisms for dispute resolution and allocated to the partner who is best able to bear
cancellation of contracts, including step- it. In practice, it is not always easy to determine
ping-in rights; such an optimal allocation. Generally, the pub-
• Strong political commitment, good gover- lic partner bears any risks related with the legal
nance, and a well-functioning judicial sys- framework and regulatory (e.g., environmental)
tem (needed to assure investors that con- constraints, and the private partner the construc-
tracts will be honored); tion and performance risks.

 ontracts should define in detail: the features and quality of PPP outputs; the allocation of risks; the rules for dealing with unforeseen events;
step-in rights in the event of default of private partner; and conflict resolution mechanisms.

Global Economy and Development at Brookings

Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 18
Country practices vary with respect to the alloca- present value of future service payments should be
tion of risks related to the demand for the services recorded as a government liability when the con-
of the asset—if the public sector is the sole origi- tract is signed; the face value of guarantees provid-
nator of such demand (e.g., in the case of school ed by the government (national or sub-national)
or prison facilities), it should bear the full risk. In to the private partner should be included in the
other cases (e.g., a toll highway) the risk may be relevant budget annex on fiscal risks; and adequate
shared between the public and private partners. provision should be made in the budget for the ex-
pected value of calls on such guarantees.49
An appropriate accounting treatment of PPP
transactions is important to avoid that these ar- The case studies in the project should provide use-
rangements are undertaken to minimize recorded ful insights into the experiences of the selected cit-
public deficits and debt, rather than to exploit their ies with PPPs, their main characteristics, and fac-
potential for efficiency gains. Specifically, the net tors influencing their performance to date.

See Hemming and others (2006).

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

19 Background And Overview
MAIN ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED monitoring, accounting and reporting
o Procurement systems and practices;

T his section briefly outlines the main issues

that, in the light of the literature review above,
could be covered in the proposed case studies of
o Main indicators and processes utilized
to assess the effectiveness and efficien-
cy of city’s spending programs. Dis-
European cities. These questions will need to be
semination of such indicators;
expanded in detailed questionnaires to be pre-
pared for each city to be visited, and sent to the o Extent of civic engagement in the bud-
local authorities in advance of the visit. get process;
o Role of autonomous public entities
• Governance and enterprises in the delivery of pub-
o The legal status of the city vis-à-vis lic services;
higher levels of government (central o Main priorities for maintenance and
and, if relevant, intermediate) and new investments in productive and
other local governments in the same social infrastructures;
metropolitan area;
o Processes for selection, preparation,
o The structure of the city government; bidding, monitoring and evaluation of
division of responsibilities between directly procured public investments;
the Executive, Legislative and Judicial
o The city’s experience with PPPs: crite-
branches; relations with autonomous
ria for choice between PPPs and direct
public entities and enterprises;
procurement, and for allocation of
o Arrangements for intergovernmental project risks; institutional framework
cooperation, both vertical and hori- for PPPs; evidence so far of their bene-
zontal: modalities, obstacles, perceived fits and costs. Accounting of PPPs and
effectiveness; related future obligations, and contin-
o Main features of the local civil service gent liabilities;
(number, statute, skills, labor rela- o The city’s role in, and strategy for, pro-
tions); moting private investment in produc-
o Relations with civil society. tion and innovation.

• Expenditures • Own revenues

o Functions for which the city is respon- o Level and composition of own tax and
sible, distinguishing between areas of non-tax revenues;
exclusive and concurrent responsibil- o Main characteristics of local property
ity with other levels of government. taxes: coverage of the base; rate struc-
Extent of overriding power of higher ture; valuation and periodic reassess-
level(s) of government in areas of ment methods; payment methods;
shared responsibility; enforcement and dispute resolution
o Level and composition of budgetary mechanisms; extent of taxpayers’
expenditures; aversion to these taxes. Use of various
types of betterment levies, and assess-
o Main features and challenges of the
ment of their effectiveness;
city’s budget preparation, execution,

Global Economy and Development at Brookings

Centennial Scholar Initiative at Brookings 20
o Other taxes levied by the city: charac- • Debt and asset management
teristics and main perceived advantag- o The legal framework for city borrow-
es and disadvantages; ing: fiscal rules; debt or debt service
o Use of tax incentives and assessment limits; need for authorization by
of their effectiveness; higher levels of government or by leg-
o User fees: extent, pros and cons, distri- islative branch or by voters. Perceived
butional impact; benefits and costs of the framework;

o Main features of, and challenges for, o Level and composition of city’s debt.
the local revenue administration. Availability of information on con-
tingent liabilities, other fiscal risks,
• Intergovernmental transfers and long-term liabilities. For example,
relating to civil servants’ pensions and
o Level and composition of transfers health care;
received by the city;
o Institutional set-up and main guiding
o Perceived overall adequacy, in light of criteria for the management of the
revenue capacity and spending needs; city’s debt, and of financial and other
o Perceived advantages and disadvantag- assets;
es of the different types. Any evidence o Experience with use of innovative fi-
on their distributional impact; nancial mechanisms, including SPVs;
o Nature of conditionality of grants re- o Existing frameworks for resolution
ceived; systems and indicators for the of debt difficulties, if any. Perceived
monitoring of fulfillment of the condi- benefits and costs of adopting such
tionality; frameworks.
o Criteria and systems for the allocation
of capital grants by higher-level gov-
ernments. Capacity of the city to effec-
tively compete for such grants.

Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

21 Background And Overview
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Fiscal and Financial Issues for 21st Century Cities

25 Background And Overview
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