Comment in Response to "Consolidation is Key to Save NJ"
Consolidating local governments makes sense only in ivory towers, not in the real world.
In the last few years, Pennsylvania and New York started initiatives to consolidate their governmental structure. They took to heart the usual mantra that there are hundreds, even thousands of governments in the state and that they must be consolidated to save money. In both states, the efforts were clothed in promises that local government consolidation would improve competitiveness relative to other states.
However, the proponents never bothered to look at the data.
We did and the results were stunning. In both states, an equivalent “market basket” of spending was compared. In Pennsylvania, the largest local jurisdictions spent (including a per capita allocation of county expenditures, so that Philadelphia could be included. Social service spending was excluded) 150 percent more per capita than jurisdictions with between 5,000 and 10,000 population. The largest jurisdictions — those over 250,000 people — spent 200 percent more than jurisdictions with under 2,500 residents.
Moreover, it is not a matter of urban versus rural. Our work for the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors showed that in both the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, there are literally hundreds of suburban jurisdictions that spent at less than one-half the per capita rate of the central cities.
The story was little different in New York. Our report for the Association of Towns of the State of New York indicated that the largest jurisdictions (those over 100,000) spent nearly double per capita as jurisdictions with between 5,000 and 10,000 population (this would have been even greater if it had been possible to include New York City). The big governments spent even more (more than 150 percent) compared to jurisdictions with between 1,000 and 2,500 population. The differences were even greater within metropolitan areas, where smaller jurisdictions were even more efficient relative to the largest jurisdictions.
The reality is that there are few, if any economies of scale in local governments, except for the special interests that can influence them more readily, for less cost, as the town hall is moved farther away from citizens.