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How to Tame Two Leviathans? Revisiting the Effect of Direct Democracy on Local Public Expenditure in a Federation

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Articolo pubblicato in rivista scientifica
We explore how the presence of direct democracy across hierarchical levels of government in a federation affects the level of public expenditure. In so doing we revisit the effect of direct democratic institutions on public policies. Particularly, we are interested whether the effect of upper-level (state) direct democratic institutions on lower-level expenditure varies with lower-level direct democracy. Empirically, we exploit the large institutional variation in the degree of direct democracy both for state (cantons) and local governments (municipalities) in Switzerland. Considering 119 municipalities belonging to 22 cantons for the period 1993–2007, we find that the cantonal fiscal referendum increases local spending for those municipalities without fiscal referenda, while this effect is significantly reduced for municipalities that also avail of referenda. This suggests that upper-level fiscal restraint can be undone by lower-level profligacy if direct-democratic control is limited to the upper level.
European Journal of Political Economy