How Fiscally Autonomous are Local Governments? An Empirical Test

47 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2023

See all articles by Nicola Mauri

Nicola Mauri

University of Lausanne; Swiss Federal Tax Administration

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How freely can local jurisdictions change their taxes and spending? I propose an empirical test of the effective degree of municipal fiscal autonomy by studying fiscal adjustments to a permanent exogenous revenue shift. Based on a tax competition model where jurisdictions are are partially expenditure constrained, I derive a testable prediction: tax cuts triggered by a small positive exogenous revenue shock will be larger with higher perceived tax-base mobility, the more fiscally constrained is the local decision maker. I apply this test using a revenue shock generated by a reform in an inter-municipal equalization scheme within a Swiss canton. Tax-base mobility is proxied by the availability of zoned land reserves. I find that higher residential land availability is associated with stronger tax rate responses, but I find no statistically significant results for industrial land reserves. In light of the theory, this suggests that the effective degree of fiscal autonomy of local jurisdictions is low. Usual indicators of fiscal decentralization based on public accounts might overestimate the actual autonomy of local governments.

Keywords: fiscal autonomy, transfer windfall, land-use zoning, local public finance, tax competition

Suggested Citation

Mauri, Nicola, How Fiscally Autonomous are Local Governments? An Empirical Test. Available at SSRN: or

Nicola Mauri (Contact Author)

University of Lausanne ( email )

Quartier Chambronne
Lausanne, CH-1015

Swiss Federal Tax Administration ( email )


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