Changing the Price of Pork: The Impact of Local Cost Sharing on Legislators' Demand for Distributive Public Goods

Alison F. DelRossi, Robert P. Inman

NBER Working Paper No. 6440
Issued in March 1998
NBER Program(s):   PE

The provision of public services through national legislatures gives legislators the chance to fund locally-beneficial public projects using a shared national tax base. Nationally-financed, local public goods will be purchased at a subsidized price below marginal cost and may be inefficiently too large as a consequence. An important assumption behind this conclusion is that national legislators in fact demand more of the locally-beneficial project as the local price for projects declines. This paper provides the first direct test of this important assumption using legislators' project choices following the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (WRDA'86). We find legislators' chosen water project sizes do fall as the local cost share rises, with a price elasticity of demand ranging from -1.3 for flood control and shoreline protection projects to perhaps as high as -2.5 for large navigation projects. The requirement of WRDA'86 that local taxpayers contribute a greater share to the funding of local water projects reduced overall project spending in our sample by 35 percent and the federal outlay for project spending by 48 percent.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6440

Published: Journal of Public Economics (1999).

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