Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Urban and Public Affairs, PhD

Committee Chair

Koven, Steven

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Kelly, Janet

Committee Member

Kelly, Janet

Committee Member

Imbroscio, David

Committee Member

Gainous, Jason

Author's Keywords

Government Structure; Municipal Spending; Direct Democracy; Urban Reform


The debate over the effect of government structure is one of the most examined aspects of administration. At the municipal level, much of this work has focused on the structural reforms of the Progressive era. Three of these reforms –city managers, at-large elections, and non-partisan elections –were meant to make cities more professional and efficient. Three more –initiatives, referenda, and recalls –were meant to make cities more democratic. A large segment of this literature has studied what effects these structures have on local government spending, and results have been mixed. This dissertation seeks to examine what effects structural reform elements currently have on municipal spending. The main proposition is that differences in local government spending are no longer due to professional structures as they were in the past, and that future differences will have more to do with democratic elements. The results presented here support this thesis. Using information from the Lincoln Institute and the ICMA, this dissertation updates previous research on spending data for 111 cities to see what changes may have occurred since structures were last examined. In addition, a new national level dataset was created showing how often direct democracy measures were used in each city in order to examine the effect of their use, not simply their presence. Results from this study show that professional structures are no longer associated with lower levels of spending. The use of direct democracy measures was associated with different levels of spending. Cities with higher rates of initiative use were found to have higher per capita spending levels, and were more likely to focus spending on social services rather than police. Race was the most significant demographic factor, with spending levels going down as cities became less diverse. As democratic structures seem to have more of an effect on spending than professional structures, the last chapter suggests new avenues for study. In particular, newer democratic structures such as participatory budgeting are spreading, creating new opportunities for involvement and research.