Theses Doctoral

Essays on State and Local Government Finances

Giesecke, Oliver

This thesis explores several aspects of state and local governments' finances and its interaction with the real economy. The first chapter explores the question of what the fiscal position of local governments is and how the financial market assesses it. I find that a large share of municipalities operate with a negative net position-akin to a negative book equity position in the corporate context. I find that most of the decline in the fiscal position originates from the accumulation of legacy obligations, i.e. pensions and other post-employment benefits (OPEBs); this is recognized by municipal bond markets through higher credit spreads. While accounting values from the annual comprehensive financial reports are informative, they are based on book valuations which potentially convey limited information about the economic value of assets and liabilities. Thus, I turn to the market valuation of local governments' equity by estimating an stochastic discount factor that matches the valuation of a wide range of assets in the economy to prices future tax and expenditure claims. Using market prices for tax and expenditure claims, and market valuations of liability positions I find that the market values of equity are highly correlated with the book values. The negative equity position-in terms of book and market values-for some local governments suggests the presence of implicit insurance by state and federal governments.

In the second chapter I utilize quasi-experimental variation in Connecticut to causally estimate the policy response of local governments and the migration response of residents to a large fiscal shock. I find that local governments adjust tax rates to maintain stable tax revenues; there is no change in public employment levels and limited adjustments of public services. The micro data on people's location further allows me to causally estimate the migration elasticity to a change in property tax rates. I find evidence of inter-state migration in response to an increase in property tax rates; and no statistically significant response of intra-state migration. Detailed property and location choice data reveal the elasticity of migration with regard to the property tax bill. An increase in the property tax bill by ten percent leads to an average increase in the migration propensity by about 1.5%.

In the third chapter I explore the contribution of the local fiscal constraint channel on the local economy. I show that the observed general equilibrium response to local labor market shocks contains an economically important amplification effect through local financial constraints. At the center of the local fiscal constraint channel is the housing market. Local governments in the United States receive a median share of 63.13% of own source revenues from property taxes. I show that exogenous shocks to local labor markets affect the housing market and exerts fiscal pressure on local government finances. Local governments-on average-increase property taxes and cut amenities. Both policy responses affect the relative attractiveness of a location which amplifies the initial shock. I estimate a multiplier of 1.7x through this local financial constraint channel for employment.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Van Nieuwerburgh, Stijn G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 7, 2022