Fiscal Federalism, Fiscal Consolidations and Cuts in Central Government Grants: Evidence from an Event Study
This paper contributes to a developing literature that examines financial interactions between different levels of government. More specifically, we investigate the use of grants, shared tax revenues, and their impact on fiscal outcomes, including decentralized service provision. Most existing empirical evidence has focused on individual country studies, and has predominantly been US based. However, it is difficult to generalize the conclusions obtained for the US to countries where the position and remit of lower tiers of government has recently been evolving or is less clear constitutionally. We use a panel dataset covering 15 OECD countries to investigate how central and sub-central expenditures, taxation, and intergovernmental grants change in response to central governments' attempts to correct their fiscal positions. We adopt an event study methodology to examine the timing of expenditure, taxation and intergovernmental grant shifts around the periods of fiscal consolidation. In addition to highlighting issues regarding the interaction between central and sub-central tiers of government, our analysis also sheds light into the extent to which sub-central tiers of government participate in fiscal consolidations, and hence to macroeconomic adjustment. Our key results can be summarized as follows. First, successful fiscal consolidations are generally driven by similar, and sustained, falls in expenditure at both central and sub-central tiers. Moreover, our evidence counters that identified by Gramlich (1987) for the USA, in that when central governments cut intergovernmental grants sub-central tiers do not take redress through offsetting increases in other forms of revenues. Second, unsuccessful consolidations tend to be characterized by increased central government taxation, with no fall back in grants and no tendency for sub-central taxation to change. It does appear that there is strong correlation between success in consolidating central fiscal deficits and similar actions from lower tiers of government. Third, we find that where consolidations are successful sub-central tiers of government are typically forced to cut back on capital expenditure. This suggests that in this regard the burden of adjustment falls onto lower tiers of government and central governments worry less about the long-term (i.e. public investment) consequences of consolidation if these decisions are taken at local level. We also find that when faced with cuts in intergovernmental grants, sub-central governments tend to maintain expenditures on wages at the expense of capital expenditure, reflecting a definite compositional switch towards public consumption. This might be interpreted as a variant of the effect identified by Gramlich (1987): sub-central governments seeking to defend current services rather than spending on infrastructure or raising taxation. This may reflect the greater constraints on sub-central tiers’ tax raising powers in many of the OECD countries in our sample, relative to those in the USA. Finally, our results shed some light, at least indirectly, on the ‘Fly-paper Effect’, by showing that it operates in reverse. Successful consolidations are characterized by cut-backs in grants that are more than offset by cut-backs in sub-central expenditures. In contrast, periods of unsuccessful consolidation are characterized by increases in central taxation, no change in grants, and small, temporary reductions in sub-central expenditure.
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