Daniel Convissor's Web Site (is in the midst of reconstruction):

City Limits

by Paul Peterson

University of Chicago Press, 1981

Part 1: An Alternative Theory of Urban Politics

CH 1: City Limits and the Study of Urban Politics

p5 false theories finds a combination of above influenced by external national and economic realities

p7 party v. reform politics often thought of in class terms, but it's not

p16 three policy categories

CH 2: The Interests of the Limited City

p20 interests of the city as a whole, not the interests of the individuals summed/avgd/etc

p21 [Homeowner tax deduction of mortgage, do apt bldg owners get it too???]

p22 economic interests. having exports is critical to draw in $. need good infrastructure

p31 cities can't provide services to low income residents since it will erode fiscal competitiveness of the municipality due to high taxes. [Poor people laying in the streets and/or robbing people is not too good for the quality of life for the middle class workers. Perhaps he could have looked at the effect of redistributional policies on the crime rate.]

p33 municipalities can't deliver efficient services. these inefficiencies will be borne by the residents till the cost of inefficiency exceed the cost of moving

p34 average taxpayer (the median ratio of benefit/tax) getting less benefits for each tax dollar. Ratio is from 0>1, with 1 being an unobtainable maximum because government isn't efficient. [Isn't it actually able to go over 1 since some people get significant benefits while paying little in taxes???] No one gets all the services wanted, so the ratio of benefit/tax has to be less than 1. Supply of public services is always wanted to be more than is provided, so supply/demand ratio is <0. Municipalities try to provide expenditures at the level where these two factors intercept.

p36 average taxpayer is at the mean in the tax/benefit ratio, where half the payers get more in services and half the payers get less in services than that average taxpayer. This is weighted in proportion to the amount paid. "if his benefit/tax ratio is less than that of the other taxpayers, then he is the average taxpayer." [The way he words it is that the average taxpayer gets less in services than everyone else.]

[Talking about average taxpayer is supposed to pull on heart strings. He talks a lot of tax/benefit not much on supply/demand.]

Low cost governments are at a competitive advantage in market for people, redistributive efforts hinder that.

Part 2: City Limits and Public Policy

CH 3: The Three Policy Arenas

More redistribution happens in wealthier states, less where minorities are prevalent more highways in rural/less urban states developmental related to demand, not governments' financial capacity.

CH 4: Toward a New Theory of Federalism

p74 local property tax arguments and author's counter arguments: p74 State revenue through sales tax, regressive, approximates benefit/tax ratio better. State/local income taxes are rare, most are flat. Local $ from property tax. National income tax highly progressive and accounts for 40% of national revenue. this redistributive tax is possible at a national level because locals can't use them due to competition.

Table 4.3
Governmental Expenditures from Own Fiscal Resources
(percentage distribution among functions)

               local  state federal

Redistribution:  14%    35%     55%
Allocation:      29%     8%      4%
Development:     18%    14%     17%
Education:       34%    38%      8%
Interest:         6%     3%     10%
                ----   ----    ----
                100%   100%    100%

Table 4.4
Governmental Expenditures from Own Fiscal Resources
(percentage distribution among governments)

               local  state federal   total

Redistribution:   7%    22%     71%    100%
Allocation:      60%    20%     19%    100%
Development:     24%    21%     55%    100%
Education:       35%    45%     20%    100%
Interest:        17%    10%     73%    100%

p83 National Defense Education Act Title III (1958-9?). general purpose science, math, foreign language funding. highly sought after, matching funds required so wealthier districts better positioned to get $, little oversight.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Title I (1965). learning deficient children from low income families. doesn't help wealthier taxpayers children, encourages poor families to come to district. no matching funds. major oversight. [Doesn't see educating poor to get them out of poverty to be developmental.]

CH 5: Cities, Suburbs and Their Schools

Coleman study is tenuous city schools treat all students equally and are redistributive suburban schools are developmental: spending/student and quality varies by town

Part 3: City Limits and Urban Politics

CH 6: Parties and Groups in Local Politics

p111 parties formed in tumultuous times such as war and depression

p122 congress is more open than local politics. [But there's so much going on it's impossible to pay attention to it all.] Media coverage of congress is better due to competition of media to get the big scoop. There's generally little local competition in media, just one paper. Congress is open to public.

National policies are critical to local well being: economy, war/peace, monetary policy

p126 local politicians are less ambitions and make less of a job out of it so care less. National figures get well endowed and want to keep their jobs.

p127 not much polling done at local level

p129 most effective local advocacy focuses on economic improvement arguments

CH 7: The Politics of Development

Moses: independent money from highways and development strength of highways gave him power

p135 enviro/community groups winning over highways, due to waning power of highway development.

p140-142 the "power elite" is not a valid theory because they are not a unified force. [They don't have to be. Often their favors are granted on an individual basis. The theory, as the author points out, is not needed on broader issues.]

p143 sets up a theory and then shoots it to pieces.

p144 urban renewal of New Haven was successful [???]

New Haven: sharp mayor gets major $ and has major success. Congeals public opinion and support.

Oakland: slow moving mayor, business leaders push a plan, resulted in ineffective project and got little money

Development happens because it has to keep city going.

CH 8: The Politics of Allocation

Machine v reform
allocational fights is major part of city politics since it's what cities control. Effects everyone. Employment cronyism and civil service laws are two methods to employ people in the government, both work. Passing a civil service test doesn't mean you'll be competent. Machines/corruption is far more prevalent in local elections. National corruption not so much... economy etc is bigger issue.

Politicians can more easily utilize ethnicity than class. Class means redistribution. Ethnic recognition is giving jobs and showing up at events allowing parades etc

p160 Black struggle paid off at national level where redistribution is possible. Civil Rights Act of 64-5. Food Stamps Welfare Great Society [These are things that help all poor, not just blacks. Most recipients are white.]

p161 Blacks are "overrepresented" in managerial/administrative/technical positions in public sector COMPARED to the PRIVATE sector. Caused by political desires/attempts to assuage black voters, and hiring is something local politicians can control. [The private sector has representation below population and unemployment in black community is far higher than whites.]

Municipal employees are a voting block.

CH 9: The Politics of Redistribution

p167 redistribution is "manifestly unrealistic economically"

air pollution is similar. overregulation hampers your competitive edge. [Polluted cities with lots of sick people is not good for competition either.]

p175 rent strikes in Harlem 1964 to bring buildings up to code, organized by Jesse Grey. Resulted in:

these were small measures to address the most publicly decriable problems without major $ or addressing the underlying causes. Showed some action without too much change that satisfied the public and protestors.

Managing Conflict

  1. Delay:
  2. Turn Redistributive Issues into Allocational Issues:
  3. Convert Economically Redistributive Issues into Political Issues:

Part 4: Changing the Limits on Urban Policy

CH 10: Is New York a Deviant Case?

p188 immigrants (low income) are coming to NYC for opportunity. Such people are colored. [What about major Irish immigration that continues to this day?]

p189 Crime/unsanitary conditions that accompany low income groups. [If they were employed, perhaps they wouldn't have to resort to crime? Author sounds racist.]

people/jobs leaving due to other policies resulted in little economic base to support services for remaining individuals.

Lindsay ambitions pushed toward short term gains at expense of long term stability fed state matching requirements burdened city


1963-1974 rapid expansion of budget and employees. major employment increase in 1960's and doubled the rate when Lindsay was in office.

NYC used to be all powerful and could afford redistributive services such as CUNY. National/global scene has changed dramatically with suburbs and other cities rising in importance/population/jobs. City still continued dramatic policies and modestly increased its self funded costs each year. The city's means kept shrinking while the expenditures modestly expanded.

Group pressure/lobbying is strong in NYC too. Groups thrive

CH 11: Redistribution in the Federal System

New Federalism. suggestions for change...
  1. full faith and credit of us gvt behind local debt
  2. revenue sharing plans
  3. minimum standards instead of grants


Are you having a hard time printing this page? Read the Printing FAQ.

This page is hosted by Daniel Convissor
Home Page: http://www.panix.com/~danielc/
Email: danielc@panix.com

This URL: http://www.panix.com/~danielc/usa/citylimt.htm
Last updated: 4 April 1999