Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Effective Public Service Delivery in Latin America: Can it be done at the Local Level?

Local governments in Latin America are perceived to have low levels of autonomy, fiscal capacity and human resources, which apparently makes it difficult for them to deliver public services effectively and efficiently (Campbell 2003, Tulchin and Selee 2004). 

Yet increase devolution of authority has increased their necessity to effectively deliver public services. Countries in the region started to decentralize by entrusting state functions, like implementing social policies, managing local budgets and contracting out public services, to local governments in the early 1980s (Montero and Samuels 2004). 

This was coupled with various democratization movements throughout the same period, local elections became prevalent (Gibson 2004, Tulchin and Selee 2004). Increasingly, local governments have become a unit of analysis for research in the region, just as many academics have separated the decentralization movement into political, administrative and fiscal reforms (Falleti 2005, Tulchin and Selee 2004). 

The purpose of this paper is to better understand the capacity of local governments in Latin America to implement public policies and distribute public goods. It seeks to answer the following questions: What is the relationship between decentralization and its local public budgets? Are more fiscally autonomous cities in Latin America better able to promote better public policies? How are cities paying for their local public services? 

The research uses a mixed methodology to explore how cities make decisions to innovate, develop and finance public services. First, this study will provide a comparative analysis of decentralization policies in Argentina and Mexico as a means to gain a better understanding of the degree of autonomy exercised by local governments. Next, it will examine the budgets and fiscal capacity of cities within Argentina—Santa Fe, Rosario, and Rafaela—and Mexico—Leon, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende. Specific attention will be paid to each city’s efforts at collecting taxes and paying for public services. 

Finally, this research will also use statistical data gathered from Latin American municipal associations to test whether cities which report being more fiscally autonomous (measured by the collection of more own-source revenue) are better able to effectively deliver public services.

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