According to John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, "individual liberty is individual power". Applied to local governments, this motto seems to be a good general explanation for their recent proliferation: it is a quest for independence and liberty that seems to have led numerous areas to become cities, by incorporating or seceding, and pushed special districts to multiply. From Industry, California, which incorporated to create a business-friendly environment, to Lakewood, California, which incorporated to preserve the area's independence and offer its residents cheaper services, the proliferation of governments has multiple causes, but finds its root in a desire for liberty. Today, there are more than 87,000 local governments in the United States (municipal, town and county governments, and school and special districts). For the last decades, cities and special districts have been proliferating, according to the department of commerce. These governments vary in size, power and independence. They form a complex web of local interactions that cause various problems of responsibility, accountability and efficiency when it comes to providing services or to dealing with regional issues.
[...] 2 assessing the costs of proliferation painful consequences and risks for society a the dramatic consequences on society Despite the benefits the residents foresee when incorporating, this proliferation of local governments has dramatic consequences on society as a whole. Urban areas became less effective at providing services at the right cost to urban population as a whole, for several reasons: First, the new local governments created are not able to take advantage of economies of scale or of scope that they could use if they were unified into a large single unit. [...]
[...] Local governments thus had to find new ways to balance their budget: on the one hand, they had to find new sources of funding, thanks to land use fiscal policies (to attract businesses, which provided them sales tax revenues) or rise in other taxes; on the other hand, they had to reduce their spending (less investment in infrastructures and services). This has had consequences on the policies set up by local governments, which have had to focus on attracting businesses and lobbying state for money: that explains the evolution of cities into “growth machines”. [...]
[...] Indeed, a metropolitan-wide government seems to be more efficient in providing services and solving issues than a web of small local governments, hence the state desire to consolidate and merge cities. There were two waves of reforms: first, comprehensive reforms tried to unify and merge local governments; second, incremental reforms focused on cooperation between local governments. For instance, Councils of Governments (COGs) are associations of local governments that promote regional decision-making and coordination as well as mutual assistance on regional issues in order to deal with these problems more efficiently. [...]
[...] Proliferation of local governments also raises the issue of democracy. Because of the multiplication of local governments and in particular of special districts, which provide services, there are quite unclear lines of responsibility between governments. This has a direct consequence: it has become difficult for residents to hold service providers accountable for the delivery of a service or for problem concerning transportations, infrastructures, etc. More generally, the whole democratic system is undermined by the proliferation of special districts because they are not responsible before the residents: many districts are managed by independent boards of directors study shows that two thirds of special districts in California were self-governed in 1990). [...]
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