All of you who are concerned about growing inequality in Pennsylvania really must read Cities Without Suburbs and Little Boxes, Limited Horizons (PDF) by David Rusk. But in the meantime, you should read this pair of articles in Governing magazine, How Well is Power Spread Across Metro Areas? and Governments Resisting the Urge to Merge.
The political cost of PA’s balkanized system of 2562 municipal governments (not even counting school districts or special authorities) is severe segregation by race and income, huge disparities in public service quality and access, and an unequal distribution of political power:
But are all these distinct units of local government necessary? Myron Orfield, who leads the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School, doesn’t think so. Divided regions often experience disparity in quality of services. One of the most prominent such examples is the long-running statewide battles over education that pit cash-strapped school districts against their more affluent neighbors. Similarly, government fragmentation contributes to racial segregation in urban areas, Orfield says.
Another consequence of fragmented government is that competition among municipalities potentially hinders land use and economic development. “You have a lot of warfare between units of government to move shopping centers,” Orfield says. “They spend a lot of time fighting with each other.” By comparison, consolidated governments, such as the city-county systems of Indianapolis and Lexington, Ky., create more effective incentive packages to lure employers.
David Miller of the Center for Metropolitan Studies at University of Pittsburgh has created a Power Diffusion Index to measure how fragmented political power is within metro regions. In this post, there is a table ranking 942 metro areas by diffusion of political power. Four of Pennsylvania’s top 5 largest metros were in the top 20 (bad!), and when you include Harrisburg, all 5 are within the top 30.
Balkanized local government isn’t just a government efficiency problem, it’s also a huge problem for equality.