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The Problem with Being Special: Democratic Values and Special Assessments

Vladimir Kogan

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science

Mathew D. McCubbins

Duke University

October 2, 2008

In the face of voter-imposed tax limitations, local governments have adopted ever-more complex financial mechanisms to balance their budgets. Increasingly, municipalities in California have made use of special assessments to finance local infrastructure improvements and other vital government services. These assessments bill property owners for public goods and services in proportion to the "special benefits" that they receive. Because benefit assessments are constitutionally distinct from taxes, the growth in assessment financing has come partly as a direct response to increased constraints on the ability of local governments to raise general taxes. Our contention is that this growth should prove cause for concern due to the unusual combination of social choice pathologies to which special assessments fall vulnerable. Field interviews with public officials and the consultants they call on to help create these assessments suggest that special assessments can indeed pose special democratic problems.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 55

Keywords: Special benefit assessments, municipal finance, Proposition 13, agenda control, gerrymandering

JEL Classification: H00, H10, H11, H20, H21, H23, H40, H41, H70, H71, H72, H73

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Date posted: October 6, 2008 ; Last revised: February 9, 2009

Suggested Citation

Kogan, Vladimir and McCubbins, Mathew D., The Problem with Being Special: Democratic Values and Special Assessments (October 2, 2008). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1277522 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1277522

Contact Information

Vladimir Kogan (Contact Author)
Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science ( email )
Columbus, OH 43210
United States
Mathew D. McCubbins
Duke University ( email )
Department of Political Science
208 Gross Hall, 140 Science Drive
Durham, NC 277080204
United States
(213) 973-7538 (Phone)
(213) 973-3623 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://mccubbins.us
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