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Balancing Competing Interests in American Regional Governance

Abstract: Balancing Competing Interests in American Regional Governance<br/><br/>This project will study regional governance in the United States. Many public policy decisions taken at the local level have implications for actors in other political jurisdictions, leading to calls for greater regional coordination. However, all regional governance efforts face a fundamental tension: local governments must give up some authority to achieve regional benefits. Local actors may then be held accountable by their constituents for regional outcomes. Regionalism thus compels local governments to ask: what are the expected local benefits of regional policymaking, and how do those benefits compare to the expected local political costs of delegating power to the region? In other words, regionalism may be advocated to solve problems that are essentially economic - externalities and economies of scale - but its outputs are expected to also reflect its members' political and economic interests and the rules by which those interests are aggregated.<br/><br/>This project will examine the actions of regional governance efforts and assess how these efforts strike a balance between regional and local interests. The proposed study has three main components. First, it draws upon theories of externalities, collective action, and decision-making to generate hypotheses about how regional governance efforts balance local and regional interests. Second, it involves the construction and analysis of an extensive database of all 516 currently operating regional councils in the United States. Regional councils are one class of regional governance efforts that exist in 48 states and that represent an important form of regional governance. The database will include information about each regional council's activities, policy priorities, budgets, legislative mandates, history, organization, rules and procedures, and resources; the political, economic, demographic, and geographic characteristics of its region; and comparable characteristics of its individual local government members (14,500 in all). The analysis builds upon a pilot study of regional governance in the Great Lakes area to conduct statistical tests of our hypotheses with data from this national sample. Third, the project will include dissemination of the research results in a variety of academic and applied venues, including writing, distributing, and presenting research reports to non-academic audiences including state, local, and regional policy-makers, interest groups, reformers, and other policy professionals. By building and integrating theory, constructing a unique database, employing appropriate statistical analyses, and widely disseminating the results, the project will provide knowledge about the structure, operation, and consequences of regional governance. <br/><br/>Intellectual Merit: This study will provide scholars with theoretical and empirical bases for understanding regional governance, about which little such interdisciplinary work currently exists. The questions are of theoretical significance as they address how institutional arrangements combine with individual and aggregate preferences to affect policy outcomes and the quality of governance. The approach provides a theoretical framework that integrates political and economic considerations, and that is applicable to a wide range of regional governance efforts. The work is also relevant to numerous other applications where individual governments engage in voluntary collective action such as inter-state collaboratives, county-local relationships, international alliances, and international economic agreements. <br/><br/>Broader Impact: The proposed research is of immediate practical value as communities around the country struggle to construct effective cooperative arrangements across a variety of issues. The research will supply policymakers with tools for designing more effective regional institutions and will provide the public with guidelines for evaluating regional governance efforts.

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