Measuring local discretionary authority Page: 7
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composite, by virtue of their high proportions of
nonschool local direct general expenditures, the
states are ranked separately on these two indices in
the second and third columns. These rankings help to
explain whether the cities or counties, or both, are responsible
for the general posture of local discretionary
authority in each state.
Clearly, these rankings should be used with great
caution, because of the many subjective factors entering
into their construction. These factors include
the judgments of the individuals queried in the questionnaire
survey as to the basic data, the selection of
the four types of authority, the relative weights given
to each of these types, and the relative weights given
to each of the six types of local unit. Readers might
wish to evaluate these judgments by undertaking a
"do-it-yourself" testing of the questionnaire results-or
parts of them-for the states they are
familiar with, noting changes that have occurred
Despite these important caveats, the ratings can be
accepted at least as a general indication of the relative
standing of the 50 states with respect to the amount
of local discretion that they give to their generalpurpose
local governments as a whole. Thus, one
would be justified in saying, as a minimum, that the
ten states rated at the top-Oregon, Maine, North
Carolina, Connecticut, Alaska, Maryland, Pennsylvania,
Virginia, Delaware, and Louisiana-give their
local governments relatively great discretion in the
management of their own affairs; whereas the ten
rated at the bottom-Nebraska, Colorado, Massachusetts,
Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota,
New Mexico, West Virginia, and Idaho-tend to
maintain the greatest degree of control over their
local units. Further, the 30 states in between ranked
neither highest nor lowest in the degree of local
discretion accorded to their general-purpose local
A further caveat must be added, however: Because
of the many judgmental factors involved, too much
must not be read into the specific place rankings of
the individual states.
THE ACTUAL USE
OF DISCRETIONARY AUTHORITY
The possession of discretionary authority at the
local level is one thing; the actual use of available
power is another. The questionnaire survey of state
officials and other informed observers sought their
opinions on the extent of actual use. It revealed that:
* The power to draft and adopt a charter is not
utilized often by eligible local governments.
This conclusion would seem explainable by
the fact that many local governments which
drafted and adopted charters years ago still
are satisfied with them because of their
breadth and flexibility, or prefer optional
charters made available by statute or general
law that grant meager discretionary powers.
* Of related interest is the fact that cities and
other local governments possessing the
power do not amend their charters often.
* Only one-fifth to one-fourth of the respondents
reported that there was an increase
over time in the utilization of each of
the four types of local discretionary powers,
with the greatest increase being concentrated
in the functional area.
* Twenty-seven states authorize some or all of
their general-purpose local units to
supersede general and special state laws by
the enactment of a local law, bylaw, or ordinance,
and only 37% of the respondents in
these states indicated that local governments
actually supersede state laws.
* Part of the long campaign to increase local
discretionary authority has been an effort to
prohibit the legislature from enacting special
legislation. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed
reported, however, that this prohibition
is evaded by the use of classified legislation-that
is, statutes which, in effect, are
special legislation because the classes used
are tailored to fit only one or a few local governments.
On the other side of the coin,
however, about a third of the respondents
indicated that local governments often request
local bills that fall within the purview
of local discretionary authority. This suggests
the ambivalence that exists among
many local officials with respect to increased
authority from the state to take care of local
* Respondents reported that various factors
tended to reduce the actual exercise of local
discretionary authority. Forty-one percent
of those reporting reductions attributed
them to the state legislature, 27% to state
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United States. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. Measuring local discretionary authority, book, November 1981; Washington, D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1259/m1/19/: accessed January 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.