Attitudes Towards Local Taxes
co-authored with Tom Holbrook
Since the late 1970s, local governments have experienced a slow-but-steady decrease in the flow of intergovernmental assistance while at the same time dealing with a persistent post-Proposition 13 anti-tax environment. Complicating things even more for local governments, their primary own-source revenue stream—the property tax—historically is one of the public’s least favorite taxes. However, that is not to say there is widespread dissatisfaction with local taxes, or that support and opposition to local tax regimes is rooted only in the local tax portfolio, rather than some other mix of factors. In this paper, we investigate the relative roles of local tax policies and respondent attitudes and characteristics in shaping support for local taxes. Using a unique set of survey data collected across dozens of cities over several years, combined with contextual data on local tax systems, we are able to offer a comprehensive picture of who supports, and who opposes local taxes. In addition to confirming some of the work done by others, our analysis produces a number of interesting and novel findings: Tax attitudes are responsive to the local tax portfolio, especially reliance on property taxes; both operational and symbolic ideology are important predictors of tax attitudes; racial resentment is a powerful predictor of local tax attitudes among whites, and ideology and racial resentment are stronger predictors of sociotropic rather than egotropic tax attitudes.
The Promise of E-Gov? Neighborhood Inequality and Political Voice
with Amber Wichowsky, Paru Shah, and Branden DuPont
Democracy works better when citizens are willing and able to communicate their needs and preferences to their elected officials. By this standard, however, the quality of local democratic institutions is unclear. On the one hand, voter turnout in local elections is anemic, and often results in uneven consideration of political interests. On the other hand, information communication technologies (ICTs) - email, online forums, mobile apps - have made it easier for residents to get informed, communicate their preferences, and hold public official accountable. Political theorists and technology optimists have both laid claim to the democratizing potential of ICTs, but several questions remain. In this paper we ask whether ICTs help expand and diversify the civic arena, or just exacerbate existing socioeconomic biases in political voice. To do so, we leverage data from the city of Milwaukee on service requests to examine neighborhood variation in the utilization of e-gov services. We find that neighborhood need drives service requests, and no evidence that this form of government contact is positively related to more standard measures of political and civic engagement. Our results suggest that ICTs could help local governments leverage the collective intelligence of a broader cross-section of their residents.