The political economy of pricing and capacity decisions for congestible local public goods in a federal state
This paper studies the political economy of pricing and investment for excludable and congestible public goods in a federal state. Currently, we observe a wide variety of practices, ranging from federal gasoline taxes and road investment to the local supply of -- and sometimes free access to -- libraries, parking spaces and public swimming pools. The two-region model we develop allows for spill-overs between regions, it takes into account congestion, and it captures both heterogeneity between and within regions. Regional decisions are taken by majority voting; decisions at the federal level are taken either according to the principle of a minimum winning coalition or through cooperative bargaining. We have the following results. First, when users form the majority in at least one region, decentralized decision making performs certainly better than centralized decision making if spill-overs are not too large. Centralized decisions may yield higher welfare than decentralization only if users have a large majority and the infrastructure in a given region is intensively used by both local and outside users. Second, if non-users form a majority in both regions, centralized and decentralized decision making yield the same socially undesirable outcome, with prices that are much too high. Third, both bargaining and imposing uniform price restrictions across regions improve the performance of centralized decisions. Fourth, the performance of decentralized supply is strongly enhanced by local self-financing rules; it prevents potential exploitation of users within regions. Self-financing rules at the central level are not necessarily welfare-improving. Finally, the results of this paper contribute to a better understanding of actual policy-making.
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