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THE PUBLIC FINANCING OF AMERICA'S LARGEST CITIES: A STUDY OF CITY FINANCIAL RECORDS IN THE WAKE OF THE GREAT RECESSION

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  • We appreciate the “Nations and regions/cities after the Great Recession: Austerity or Creative Destruction and Boom?” conference co-organized by the Journal of Regional Science and the International Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies. We also appreciate helpful comments and suggestions from three anonymous referees, Mark Partridge, Skip Krueger, Bill Fischel, and participants at both the 2013 ABFM and NTA conferences.

ABSTRACT

This paper employs Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports of the 35 largest population American cities from 2005 to 2011 to examine how these cities managed the Great Recession, which was a global macroeconomic shock particularly damaging to the housing sector. While broader surveys of local government suggest that the Great Recession has been associated with substantive revenue declines, particularly via the property tax, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports data indicate that large cities remained relatively stable in revenue by using higher property taxes to compensate for other revenue declines. Furthermore, these cities were able to rely on their net assets to engage in deficit spending. These findings indicate that cities are relying on traditional strengths of local governments, but are also able to engage in the deficit spending that is typically characteristic of national governments. It also seems to be the case that grants for capital projects were largely transferred into highly liquid and spendable assets.

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