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Legislative Bargaining and Incremental Budgeting

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  • Dhammika Dharmapala

    (University of Connecticut)

Abstract

The notion of 'incrementalism', formulated by Aaron Wildavsky in the 1960's, has been extremely influential in the public budgeting literature. In essence, it entails the claim that legislators engaged in budgetary policymaking accept past allocations, and decide only on the allocation of increments to revenue. Wildavsky explained incrementalism with reference to the cognitive limitations of lawmakers and their desire to reduce conflict. This paper uses a legislative bargaining framework to undertake a formal analysis of incremental budgeting. An exogenously chosen agenda setter proposes budgets and seeks to build coalitions to secure passage, over multiple periods. The central result is that the agenda setter can lower her cost of building a winning coalition, and thereby raise her payoff, by following an incrementalist strategy, which involves maintaining the same coalition every period. First, it is shown within a simple 2-period model that there exist subgame perfect 'incremental budgeting' equilibria of this nature. If the agenda setter is assumed to be able to commit to the 'grandfathering' of past allocations, the unique subgame perfect equilibrium (up to the choice of the coalition members) involves incremental budgeting. The model is then extended to an infinitely repeated setting, and it is shown that the agenda setter's incentives for incremental budgeting are reinforced in this context. Some testable implications (relating incrementalism to various characteristics of the legislature) are also derived. Finally, the implications for incrementalism of heterogeneity among legislators are analyzed.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2002-10.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2002-10

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Keywords: Legislative bargaining; incremental budgeting; budgetary institutions;

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  1. Roger B. Myerson, 1992. "Incentives to Cultivate Favored Minorities under Alternative Electoral Systems," Discussion Papers 1000, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  2. Diermeier, Daniel & Merlo, Antonio, 2000. "Government Turnover in Parliamentary Democracies," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 94(1), pages 46-79, September.
  3. Crain, W. Mark & Crain, Nicole Verrier, 1998. "Fiscal consequences of budget baselines," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 421-436, March.
  4. Leblanc, William & Snyder, James Jr. & Tripathi, Micky, 2000. "Majority-rule bargaining and the under provision of public investment goods," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 21-47, January.
  5. Brian Knight, 2004. "Bargaining in Legislatures: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 10530, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Dharmapala, Dhammika, 1999. "Comparing tax expenditures and direct subsidies: the role of legislative committee structure," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(3), pages 421-454, June.
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