The Fiscal Crisis Down Below

Sub-national governments – states, countries, cities, provinces, towns, and special districts – play different roles from country to country, but usually deliver important public services. In many countries, their fiscal position has collapsed under the combined weight of mismanagement and the global economic and financial crisis.

PALO ALTO – Sub-national governments – states, countries, cities, provinces, towns, and special districts – play different roles from country to country, but usually deliver important public services such as police and fire protection, transportation, education, health care, and welfare. In many countries, their fiscal position has collapsed under the combined weight of mismanagement and the global economic and financial crisis.

The relationship between sub-national and central governments includes the general division of responsibilities for providing and financing public services; national subsidies that at least partly pay for various services delivered locally; and tax collection.

In the United States, the federal government has primary responsibility for defense, public old-age pensions (Social Security), and health care for the elderly (Medicare); sub-national governments are responsible for education and law enforcement. Health care for the poor (Medicaid) is a shared responsibility. Matching funds flow from the federal government to state and local governments by formulae delineating the shared responsibilities. Some of these formulae allow sub-national governments wide discretion; others do not.

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