Friends and Competitors: Policy Interactions between Local Governments in Metropolitan Areas

By Park, Keeok | Political Research Quarterly, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Friends and Competitors: Policy Interactions between Local Governments in Metropolitan Areas


Park, Keeok, Political Research Quarterly


This article explores intergovernmental policy interactions between central city, county, and suburban city governments in 186 metropolitan areas. Two hypotheses are developed to test the existence and shape of intergovernmental policy interactions between these governments. A competition hypothesis, based on Tiebout's 1956 concept of interjurisdictional competition, posits that counties and cities compete in the developmental policy area by matching what other cities and counties do. A cooperation hypothesis, based on the notion of the functional arrangements between local governments, posits that counties and cities cooperate in the public safety and education policy areas by supplementing others' policies or by substituting their policies with others' policies. The results of an analysis of local government expenditures indicate that local governments compete as well as cooperate at the intergovernmental level and that intergovernmental policy competition is weaker than interjurisdictional policy competition. The article ends with a series of discussions on possible changes in the current local government system to mitigate the competition between cities and their counties.

As local governments face fiscal stress in the 1990s, many scholars and policymakers raise the issue of policy interactions among state and local governments as a means to reduce their financial burdens. Some propose superior economic development strategies that can be used to attract businesses to their local areas (e.g., Watson 1995). Others contemplate the possibility of reassigning functional responsibilities among different levels of government (e.g., Peterson 1995). Still others advocate restructuring the existing local government system to create a larger government that can unify all jurisdictions within an entire metropolitan area (e.g., Rusk 1993). Although their solutions to the local fiscal problems are different, they share the idea that local governments somehow interact and that the actions of one government affect those of other governments. Probing the idea of governmental interactions, this study considers both the competitive and cooperative aspects of local interactions in metropolitan areas. More specifically, it examines the existence and the shape of intergovernmental policy competition and cooperation between central cities, counties, and suburban cities in the developmental, redistributive, allocational, public safety, and education policy areas.

Interactions among local governments may take two dimensions: interjurisdictional (or horizontal) and intergovernmental (or vertical) (Kenyon and Kincaid 1991). The former refers to interactions between governments with comparable powers, while the latter refers to interactions between local governments with different powers. To illustrate the difference, horizontal competition occurs when two cities compete over a specific policy issue, whereas vertical competition occurs when a city competes with its county While the concept of horizontal interaction is recognized by many scholars and examined in a significant amount of literature, vertical interaction is a relatively new concept that researchers have been slow to recognize. If vertical and horizontal interactions exist, it is imperative to examine both in order to understand policy relationships among local governments.

Motivated by the lack of conceptualization and empirical studies of vertical interactions between cities and counties, this article seeks to achieve two related goals. First, it will show that cities and counties compete, not just cooperate, in many policy areas. Second, it will show that the shape of policy interactions at the vertical level differs from that at the horizontal level. To achieve these two goals, the article considers the idea of intergovernmental interactions in several ways. First, it develops competition and cooperation hypotheses. The "competition" hypothesis states that local governments compete with their neighboring governments by matching their policies. …

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