A few weeks ago I read an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looking at various city-county consolidation efforts around the country and how those might or might not help address the St. Louis region’s extreme fragmentation. Consolidation unquestionably does have some benefits, but it has downsides that few people have explored. Adding up the pluses and minuses, it doesn’t seem to be to be a particularly worthwhile endeavor on which to expend political energy, given the huge opposition such proposals always face.
I wrote my own op-ed for the paper in which I address some of these points, using the example of Indy’s Unigov system and others:
To the extent that Indy’s urban revival continues, it will now be weighed down by declining inner suburbs instead of being supported by them. Mayor John Cranley of Cincinnati thinks that in today’s world his city is in better shape than those who consolidated or annexed large territory, because he doesn’t have to share emerging urban tax revenues with these struggling outer areas. As he puts it, “We get the benefit of, on a per capita basis, being able to invest way more in these urban neighborhoods than any of our peers because we didn’t annex.”
While Unigov hasn’t stopped inner suburban decline, it has prevented the formation of small “failed state” governments in these areas. But existing municipalities are often excluded from mergers in order to assemble the political coalition for passing merger. This was true in Louisville and Nashville as well as Indianapolis. Thus one real benefit of consolidation has in practice proven difficult to achieve.
Click through to read the whole thing.