American municipalities have a wide variety of representative institutions, but do these differences drive policy outcomes? In this article, I investigate whether the relationship between the executive and legislative branches and their control over the bureaucracy affects fiscal outcomes. To do so, I construct a new panel of cities' form of government from 1900 to 1934, a time when two new types — the commission and council-manager forms — arose and were widely adopted. I find limited evidence that changes to the legislative branch's composition and relationship to the bureaucracy impacted cities' fiscal policy, as both expenses and revenues remain unchanged. However, I do find evidence insulating the bureaucracy from electoral control increased capital outlays. I further document that the fragmented control of the bureaucracy did not promote inefficiency, with little difference in spending between policy areas with and without a commissioner. These results highlight the muted effects of form of government institutions on policy.
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 3 Special Issue: The Political Economy of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.