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State politics, tuition, and the dynamics of a political budget cycle

This paper attempts to improve the understanding of political budget cycles by first identifying a previously undocumented cycle in tuition and required fees at public four-year institutions of higher education in the United States. I find that tuition and fees are 1.5 % lower during gubernatorial election years than in non-election years. No similar cycle is found in private tuition and fees. Using a newly constructed dataset, I then explore the variation in electoral competition in gubernatorial and state legislative elections within states over time to uncover the underlying electoral incentives creating the cycle. The results suggest that the tuition cycle is not designed to increase the reelection prospects of governors as standard theories would predict. I find that tuition decreases during gubernatorial election years as the reelection prospects of the incumbent governor increases. Instead, the evidence suggests that popular governors use lower tuition as political pork to expand party power in the state by capturing swing districts in concurrent state legislative elections. I find that the magnitude of the cycle increases with the level of competition in state house elections and that the effect is concentrated among those districts held by the opposition party, particularly if those opposition districts are populated with voters likely to be responsive to tuition as a policy lever. These results reveal important dynamics about party competition within states in the United States and suggest that the electoral incentives driving political budget cycles can be complex. Copyright Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

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Article provided by Springer in its journal Empirical Economics.

Volume (Year): 46 (2014)
Issue (Month): 4 (June)
Pages: 1241-1270

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Handle: RePEc:spr:empeco:v:46:y:2014:i:4:p:1241-1270
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