Spheres of Governance: Comparative Studies of Cities                                                 in Multilevel Governance Systems                                  

Forthcoming May 2007

Edited by Harvey Lazar and                                                                                 Christian Leuprecht

Institute of Intergovernmental Relations,                                                                                                  Queen's University

McGill-Queen's University Press

This is the first collection of its kind to compare systematically the                                        challenges faced by municipalities in the context of the growing                                           complexity of intergovernmental relations and multilevel governance                                                 in federations. Experts contribute chapters on Australia, France,                                           Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, paying particular attention to the interaction between municipal and federal governments. Each chapter analyzes the constitutional and fiscal position of municipalities, their relations with the central government, the way provincial and state governments mediate these relationships, and how policy is made (with examinations of two policy sectors per country). Tensions and pressures for change are highlighted. 

At a time when local governments are rising in importance around the world, and functions are being shifted across levels of government, this comparative analysis breaks new ground in the study of multilevel governance, intergovernmental relations, and municipal government.

Abstracts (by Carey Anne Hill, MCRI Multilevel Governance & Public Policy Postdoctoral Fellow)

Australia                                                                                                                                                            Douglas M. Brown, “Federal-Municipal Relations in Australia"                                                                          

The Australian federal system can be described as an “inverted pyramid” with the Commonwealth at the top, six state governments in the middle, and the approximately 730 municipalities at the bottom. Intergovernmental relations in Australia might be understood as a ‘three-ring circus’ (state-local, federal-state and federal-local) yet are increasingly becoming overlapping. Constitutionally, local governments are creations of the state governments. Unfunded mandates and cost-shifting form part of a complex financial relationship between state and local governments. Local governments are more fiscally autonomous than the state governments with property taxes and user fees as their main sources of revenue. Local governments also receive a portion of federal income tax that is channeled through the state governments. The Australian Local Government Association represents the municipalities of every state and the Northern territory and has had a seat at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) since 1995. In 2006, the COAG reached an agreement on a framework of principles for intergovernmental relations on local government matters. A case study of infrastructure funding focusing on roads notes that funding comes from two main sources. The Financial Assistance Grants channel funds through the states to the local governments. By contrast, the Roads to Recovery program is one of direct federal-local interaction with funds allocated based on historical needs, road lengths and state population. A second case study examines public management reform in Australia demonstrating that the National Competition Policy that resulted from federal-state negotiations has enabled states to “negotiate or dictate” competition reforms onto the local level.

France                                                                                                                                                               Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, “France Between Decentralization and Multilevel Governance - Central-Municipal Relations in France”

France is recognized as the archetypical centralized state yet recent trends point to increasing decentralization and the development of a unique form of multilevel governance. Four levels of government including municipalities, Departements, Regions and the central government are responsible for a variety of shared policymaking. The regional level is becoming the level of an increasing convergence of interests though not as a mediator. While the transformation has enhanced the local government system, it has not weakened the central government. Constitutionally, France is a unitary state and local governments have no constitutional standing. With a long history of top-down control, the nature of central-municipal interaction has shifted in recent years. Importantly, local governments have powers for the purposes of experimentation that may be generalized to the national territory once tested and approved by local governments and the national assembly. Local government financial resources include fees for services, local taxes, grants and tax sharing mechanisms. Contracts are negotiated and signed with involvement from all levels, the European Union and the private sector. Furthermore, accumulation of political offices has made local officials more influential. A case study of immigrant settlement policies suggests that policies of municipal allocation are closed with central state officials unable to carry out their policy objectives. By contrast, a second case study demonstrates that though the central government technocracy has maintained the staff and expertise to study and supervise the development of the road system of France, this policy area is also becoming increasingly decentralized.

Germany                                                                                                                                                               Rudolf Hrbek and Jan Christoph Bodenbender, “Federal-Municipal Relations - Germany”

Germany’s sixteen Lander have “sole jurisdiction” over its approximately 13,500 municipalities while functionally the local authorities are largely responsible for policy implementation and service delivery. Germany’s city-states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg are noteworthy in their overlapping functions as municipalities, counties, and also Lander. The revenue sources of municipalities include a share of income tax, tied and unconditional grants from the higher levels, fees for services, and loans. Representation of municipalities at the federal level is primarily indirect through the Lander. Three central associations represent municipalities directly and coordinate their efforts through the Federal Union of Local Government Central Associations. Most municipal tasks are determined by the Lander or the Federation. This has created a situation where the federal level can entrust tasks to the municipal level but is not required to provide resources. However, the authors note that recent trends including the “optimal model” and a proposal of the joint Committee on Modernising the Federal System may help to remedy this situation. Two case studies reveal the primary role of the municipalities as one of policy implementation. The first case study of emergency planning notes that the organizational and legal basis lies with the Lander. Municipalities and cities act as lower-level disaster control authorities and bear costs for relief in their vicinities. The second case study of immigration policy demonstrates the interdependence among the three levels. For example, the integration course is implemented locally, financed at its basic level federally, and at its advanced level by the Lander.

Mexico                                                                                                                                                           Allison Rowland, “The Interaction of Municipal and Federal Governments in Mexico: Trends, Issues and Problems”

The Mexican federation includes 31 states and over 2,400 local governments. Recent trends borne of greater pluralism include increased intergovernmental conflict and calls for recentralization of government as well as uneven change and variation across the regions. The struggle for control by the states has led to the usurping of municipal functions including in areas of shared responsibility. The Constitution defines the local governments as organizations of the states. While reforms in 1999 argued that municipalities had “full-fledged status,” states continue to view their role as “legitimate” in all local affairs. Municipal revenues include property taxes, conditional grants from the higher levels and revenue sharing. The structure operates such that programs and financing intended for the municipalities are channeled through the states. The interests of municipalities are represented via the National Conference of Mexican Municipalities and other interest associations. Areas of direct federal-municipal contact include international border zones, areas of domestic armed conflict and regions in which federal property is particularly important. It is noteworthy that federal programs may still be undertaken with little to no consultation with the local authorities. A case study of federal property finds that the nature of interactions varies with the type of property and degree of activity as well as the capacity to respond. A second case study focuses on image-building via tourism. FONATUR is the federal agency that identifies and invests in “promising sites.” The images offered by FONATUR may clash with local identities and priorities.

South Africa                                                                                                                                                      Nico Steytler, “National Government”

The South African constitution of 1996 included the local sphere of government along with the national and provincial levels. There is an explicit national-local as well as provincial-local relationship with a clear hierarchy between the three spheres and the national government as dominant. Monitoring and support of municipalities is a shared responsibility of the provincial and national levels. The scope of national-municipal interaction is “broad and multi-sectoral” including formal intergovernmental forums, an obligation to consult, and the national sectoral programmes. The South African Local Government Association is recognized by the National Minister of the Department of Provincial and Local Government. A single election date for all municipalities is also set by the National Minister. Due to the “two-track relationships” of provincial-local and national-local, provincial mediation is limited. Local government revenue sources include user charges, property rates, intergovernmental grants, tariffs, fines, and subsidies. A case study of emergency planning demonstrates a complex set of relationships including hierarchical, parallel and national-municipal. The system’s hierarchy involves the establishment of a disaster management centre at the municipal level which is linked to a provincial disaster management centre while the national centre takes on a coordinating and integrative role. The second case study of infrastructure is an area in which a significant policy shift has resulted in the direct funding of municipalities by the national government whereas, in the past, funds had been channeled through the provinces.

Spain                                                                                                                                                               Robert Agranoff, “Local Governments in Spain’s Multi-level Arrangements”

Most intergovernmental attention in Spain has been consumed with the renegotiation of the statutes of autonomy leaving local level reforms such as the Pacto Local stalled. In addition to the four levels of government that include the national level, the 17 regions (autonomous communities), the 50 provinces, and the over 8,000 municipalities, Spain also has other special/asymmetric arrangements. Local government revenues include own-source taxes, tax-sharing and conditional grants. Most mechanisms for municipal-federal interaction are indirect and there is much more regional-local than federal-local interaction. All 17 regions have a cabinet department addressing local administration with most having some form of municipal consultative body. At the national level, there exists the National Commission on Local Governments, a standing advisory body. More influential have been the interest associations such as the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) as part of the broader corporatist tradition. The multilevel character of the Spanish system extends to its political parties that often see ties stretch from the local to the national level. The infrastructure program case study illustrates the “highly intergovernmentalized” nature of Spanish public finance with direct and conditional financing involving participation from several levels including the private sector. A second case study in the area of immigration involves government action at the different stages that include responsibilities for prevention, admission, control and integration. The local level is largely responsible for integration with reforms in 2005 resulting in greater participation of the municipalities in the admission and control processes.

Switzerland                                                                                                                                                    Andre Bachtiger and Anina Hitz, “The Matrix Extended: Federal-Municipal Relations in Switzerland”

Federal-cantonal relations in Switzerland have been referred to as a “matrix model” of federalism. Recent trends involve an extension of the model to include municipalities via institutional innovations (i.e. the Tripartite Agglomerationskonferenz), financial incentives for cooperation at the urban level, and the recognition of interdependence among the levels. The Swiss model suggests that effective multilevel governance depends on institutionalized and cooperative relations among the different levels as well as favorable individual level characteristics. Article 3 of the Swiss Constitution suggests municipalities are the “exclusive jurisdiction of the cantons” but reforms in 1999 explicitly named municipalities as an area for federal cooperation. The 2,940 political municipalities are generally responsible for implementing legislation enacted by the cantonal and federal levels. The fiscal system is “thoroughly noncentralized” with municipalities having the capability to raise their own income tax. A transfer system involves federal transfers of funds to the cantons who transfer funds to the municipalities. While the scope of federal-municipal relations is described as “limited,” the Swiss federal system has inclusive and accommodative structures available to municipalities including referenda at all levels, participation in expert committees, and a pre-parliamentary consultation procedure. A case study of emergency planning demonstrates a hierarchical pattern of interaction with the federal level coordinating via a special committee involving the cantons while municipalities and regional civil protection organizations execute what other levels have decided. By contrast, a case study of metropolitan governance of land-use and transportation policy involves federal financial and knowledge-based support for urban policy projects involving all levels.

USA                                                                                                                                                             Ronald K. Vogel, “Multilevel Governance in the United States”

As a result of the US political system and culture, municipalities have a reputation for local autonomy even though they are legally the responsibility of state governments. The US system has a long history of federal grants to municipalities but in recent years federal support to cities has declined as the national government has increasingly favoured block grants passed through the states rather than direct ties with the cities. Local government revenues include property tax, sales taxes, user fees and aid from the other levels of government. Lobbyists and membership in associations are modes of municipal representation at the national level. In the area of infrastructure, US intergovernmentalism is bound together by the grants-in-aid system. In the past, federal categorical grants paid for a great majority of the costs of infrastructure projects with initiatives coming from the local level. Since the 1980s, federal aid to cities has been significantly reduced and municipal associations claim that a crisis in infrastructure persists. In the area of emergency planning, the intergovernmental framework involved local governments as first responders with states engaged to plan and request assistance from the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was independent and had direct access to the president to facilitate its coordinating role. However, after 9/11, FEMA reported to Homeland Security marking a shift regarding the role of the federal government in emergency planning from primary to secondary. The current multilevel governance system is judged poorly regarding the Hurricane Katrina and flooding disaster.


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