Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date



municipal services, Massachusetts, Boston, municipal powers, finance, local taxation, Massachusetts, municipal finance


Economic Policy | Infrastructure | Public Policy | Social Policy | Social Welfare | State and Local Government Law | Urban Studies


This report recommends that the administration and/or financing of a selected group of public services be shifted from municipalities to the state government in Massachusetts.

Several criteria are used to identify local functions and local fiscal responsibilities which are more suitable for state than local financing. The first criterion is the efficiency of delivery of the service: for some functions, such as solid waste disposal, technology makes it more costly per capita to provide the service separately through individual municipalities than to operate regionally-based waste disposal facilities. The second criterion is the degree to which residents of the service area are agreed as to the quantity or quality of the service to be provided. The greatest degree of consensus can always be found at the lowest jurisdictional level, but this report argues that for the services selected for shifting, state financing will not result in service levels too different from any one municipality's preferences. For example, there is not likely to be much dispute among municipal officials as to correctional institution standards. Third, the report recommends shifting services which have significant "spill-in" or "spill-out" characteristics; that is, when municipally-financed, they benefit or adversely affect residents of other local jurisdictions which have no voice in their delivery, on the one hand; and on the other hand, services with these characteristics involve costs without commensurate benefits to the responsible jurisdiction and eventually generate taxpayer resistance which forces severe reductions in service levels. Vocational education and transportation are two good examples of this phenomenon. The fourth criterion is that the area taxed to provide any service which effects a redistribution of services or cash (e.g. health and hospitals, veterans' assistance) should include enough persons in both groups to make redistribution worthwhile: enough of those we wish to redistribute from and enough of those we wish to redistribute to. A great many municipalities in Massachusetts are somewhat internally homogeneous with respect to income; that is, the incomes of residents of any one community are likely to cluster. This tendency inhibits the provision of services with redistributive objectives which might significantly change the relative inequality of opportunity or well-being.

In addition, the report notes that over-dependence on the local property tax has both inefficient and inequitable consequences which can be somewhat alleviated by any kind or measure of property tax relief.



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