Number of Governments in U.S. Shrinks
Byline: Bloomberg News
As a debate rages in Washington over the growth of federal power, the nation's local governments have halted their upward spiral for the first time in four decades. The number of governmental units, ranging from county seats to special-utility districts, fell to 89,004 in 2012, a 0.5 percent decrease from the 89,476 counted five years ago. The decline marks the first drop in the number of local governments since 1972, according to preliminary results released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Between 2007 and 2012, local government employment shrank by more than 300,000 people, or 2.2 percent.
"This is likely a reflection of fiscal realities," said Joseph Stefko, president and chief executive officer of the Rochester, New York-based Center for Governmental Research. "We're seeing more belt-tightening across the country. I don't see any political or ideological driver for these trends."
more than four times faster than the reduction in the number of governments, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of governments grew 2.2 percent, according to the Census Bureau. During the same period, BLS figures show local government employment grew by 4.6 percent.
"It's a modest decline, but still a halt in the expansion of government," said James M. McCormick, chairman of the Iowa State University political science department. "This is most likely a reflection of the economic pressures faced by local governments."
Republicans have assailed President Barack Obama for expanding the federal government's reach. When Representative Paul Ryan accepted the party's vice presidential nomination in Tampa, Florida, on Aug. 29, he said, "The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government."
The Census Bureau reported that 16 states increased the number of governments in the last five years. Leading the nation was Maryland, where government entities grew 35.5 percent to 347. Most of the state's local government growth occurred in "special-purpose" districts that are responsible for functions such as libraries, parks, hospitals or utilities.
In Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, where debate has raged for the past year over Governor Scott Walker's curbs on the collective-bargaining abilities of public-employee unions, the number of local governments grew to 3,123, up 0. …