Local Government

What is Local Government?

Local government refers to the running or governing of towns, cities, counties and districts. All states Opens in new window, whether federal Opens in new window or unitary Opens in new window, include local government.

Though central government Opens in new window receive the bulk of the attention in comparative politics, much day-to-day governing takes place at the local level. Think about the extent to which local government decisions affected what you did today.

Bus fares, placement of stop signs and crosswalks, assignment of policing duties, and many other things that may have had an impact on you today were likely decided at the local level.

Main Tasks of Local Government

One of two central tasks of local government is to provide local services such as schools, water, police, firefighters, recreational facilities, libraries, and the construction and maintenance of local public works like roads and sewage treatment plants.

Local government’s second task is to implement and enforce decisions of higher levels of government. These decisions can take the form of unfunded mandates, where the local government did not make the policy but is expected to cover the costs of implementing it.

There may also be a sizeable commitment of funds from higher levels of government to assist local officials in these activities. Though enforcement of laws and administration of government programs is often more effective at the local level, the central government often has an easier time raising money for such supervision.

Local governments have powers Opens in new window to make such decisions because it is practical for them to do so. There are only so many issues a central or provincial government can, or should, try to tackle. Whether to place a stop sign on the corner of First Street and Russell Street in a village of 1,500 people is not one of them.

Making decisions at the local level can also give those decisions more legitimacy Opens in new window. Although residents’ participation in local government meetings is often shockingly rare, at least in the United States, there is a sense that the local officials know best and have the best interests of the community in mind. Such comments are rarely made about higher levels of government.

Because there are certain advantages to local governance, even unitary systems Opens in new window allow local governments to make a number of policy decisions and to enforce many others the central government has made. Thus, a unitary system does not imply feeble local governments. What local governments in a unitary system do lack is sovereignty, certainly compared with the ability to control its own affairs that the central government in that unitary system possesses.

related literatures:
  1. Myke Doyle, U. S. Congress Man, About Our Government https://doyle.house.gov/resources/about-our-government Opens in new window
  2. Baron Bedesky, What Are the Levels of Government, (p.6-7)
  3. Lowell Barrington, Comparative Politics: Structures and Choices (p. 216-217), Local Government.