Punctuated Equilibrium and Bureaucratic Autonomy in American City Governments
Several recent applications of Punctuated Equilibrium Theory (PET) have yielded compelling findings linking institutional design and change distributions, yet, much more work needs to be done to understand institutional arrangements that make punctuated processes more or less likely. In responding to the recent call for more research on unraveling particular mechanisms through which bureaucracy moderates the odds of policy punctuations, this research explores the potential of bureaucratic expertise and professionalism in fostering rational decision making, and thus the stability in change dynamics. One important feature of urban government receives close attention: the position by professionalized, trained bureaucrats in municipalities (city manager and chief administrative officer) and the effects of their discretion on altering municipal budgetary change distributions. Analysis of a novel dataset of fiscal policy changes, charter and census information of city governments in the State of Michigan, 2005–11, suggests city governments, on average, produce change patterns that conform to the expectations of PET; more importantly, it reveals that heightened levels of managerial discretion can have a significant implication for helping cities experience less abrupt, punctuated budget changes. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these results for PET, policy change dynamics, and the design of city-governing institutions.
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