Cover image for Tense commandments : federal prescriptions and city problems
Tense commandments : federal prescriptions and city problems
Nivola, Pietro S.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 218 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Problems -- Tales from six cities -- The politics of paternalism -- Comparative politics.
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Table of contents

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HT123 .N58 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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During the past decade, dozens of large cities lost population as jobs and people kept moving to the suburbs. Despite widespread urban revitalization and renewal, one fact remains unmistakable: when choosing where to live and work, Americans prefer the suburbs to the cities. Many underlying causes of the urban predicament are familiar: disproportionate poverty, stiff city tax rates, and certain unsatisfactory municipal services (most notably, public schools). Less recognized is the distinct possibility that sometimes the regulatory policies of the federal government--the rules and rulings imposed by its judges, bureaucrats, and lawmakers--further disadvantage the cities, ultimately burdening their ability to attract residents and businesses. In Tense Commandments, Pietro S. Nivola encourages renewed reflection on the suitable balance between national and local domains. He examines an array of directive or supervisory methods by which federal policymakers narrow local autonomy and complicate the work urban governments are supposed to do. Urban taxpayers finance many costly projects that are prescribed by federal law. A handful of national rules bore down on local governments before 1965. Today these governments labor under hundreds of so-called unfunded mandates. Federal aid to large cities has lagged behind a profusion of mandated expenditures, at times straining municipal budgets. Apart from their fiscal impacts, Nivola argues, various federal prescriptions impinge on local administration of routine services, tying the hands of managers and complicating city improvements. Nivola includes case studies of six cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. He describes the "politics of paternalism," the political pressures that federal regulations place on governance. Then he offers comparisons with various political systems abroad, including Germany, the U.K., France, and Italy. As the nation and its cities brace for a long and arduous effort to combat terrorism, Nivola recommends that federal mandates be evaluated with a standard question: are they socially beneficial, or do they deprive localities of discretion, distort legitimate local priorities, and perhaps misallocate resources? In today's intricate federal system, the unencumbered capacity of governments at all levels to define their roles and concentrate on their core functions and responsibilities seems urgent.

Author Notes

Pietro S. Nivola is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

American city officials have long lamented the volume and detail of Federal mandates, regulations, and prohibitions that bind their decisions. Some are attached to financial aid they receive, while others stand alone. Nivola (Brookings Institution) revisits the issue seven years after passage of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, in which Congress pledged to heed their concerns. While his thesis is not that these regulations are a "dominant source" of localities' managerial and budget difficulties, most of his examples support that very claim. Several factors dating from the1960s that led to their proliferation--such as concerns for environmental quality, the success of the Civil Rights Movement, and challenges of urban poverty and decay--spurred Congress to turn its lawmaking and budgetary attention in their direction. Too, judges responded to lawsuits with court orders and further mandates and restrictions. Nivola is concerned, not only that many of the prescriptions are counterproductive and prevent local officials from using their best judgments, but also that national authorities may be reaching beyond their reasonable areas of competence. This valuable commentary on contemporary federalism and intergovernmental policy is well documented, with concluding suggestions for remedy. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduate collections and above. W. C. Johnson Bethel College (MN)

Table of Contents

1 Introductionp. 1
"Shift and Shaft"p. 3
Exemplifying the Problemp. 8
Plan of the Bookp. 10
Some Preliminariesp. 11
2 Problemsp. 15
The Trouble with Localismp. 16
Mandating without Spendingp. 17
The Yellow Linep. 21
One Size Does Not Fit Allp. 26
Zero Tolerancep. 29
Adversarial Legalismp. 33
Curing or Abetting the Mischiefs of Faction?p. 39
3 Tales from Six Citiesp. 49
Baltimorep. 50
Philadelphiap. 56
New Yorkp. 64
Chicagop. 71
San Franciscop. 76
Los Angelesp. 83
Conclusionsp. 88
4 The Politics of Paternalismp. 93
The Thirties and Sixtiesp. 93
Quantum Leapp. 95
The Rise of Environmentalismp. 98
The Age of "Low Politics"p. 101
The Courts in Chargep. 108
Mandates without Moneyp. 116
Summaryp. 117
5 Comparative Politicsp. 120
Fiscal Arrangementsp. 121
Legalismp. 126
Other Elements of American Exceptionalismp. 129
Decentralizationp. 133
Conclusionsp. 135
6 Conclusionsp. 137
The March of Mandatesp. 138
Too Much of a Good Thingp. 143
Nostrumsp. 145
Making Progressp. 150
Retrenchmentp. 155
Notesp. 161
Indexp. 209
3-1. Distribution of per Pupil Expenditures in Baltimore Metro Area Public School Districts, 1998p. 57
1-1. Federal Aid to Large Cities, 1980-98p. 5
1-2. General Revenue in Large Frost Belt Cities, 1980-98p. 6
1-3. Local versus Federal Wastewater Expenditures, 1972-98p. 7
1-4. Distribution of General Revenue in the City of Detroit, 1980-98p. 8
2-1. Federal Mandates on State and Local Governments, 1955-94p. 19
2-2. Special Education Litigation in Federal Courts, 1950-99p. 40
3-1. Distribution of General Revenue in the City of Baltimore, 1980-98p. 51
3-2. City of Baltimore's Total Expenditures on Special Education, 1988-98p. 53
3-3. Cost of Special Education for Nonpublic Placements in Baltimore and Surrounding Metropolitan Counties, 1975-98p. 54
3-4. Baltimore Metro Area's Distribution of Local Dollars to Special Education and Regular Expenditures, 1998p. 56
3-5. Comparison of per Capita Total Taxes in Philadelphia and Surrounding Counties, 1971-92p. 59
3-6. Distribution of General Revenue in the City of Philadelphia, 1980-98p. 61
3-7. Total Percentage Change of Crime Index in Selected Cities, 1986-98p. 62
3-8. Debt per Capita for Selected Cities, 1999p. 67
3-9. Percentage of Chicago Students at or above National Norms, 1990-2000p. 74
3-10. Distribution of General Revenue in the City of Chicago, 1980-98p. 75
3-11. Federal Share of Los Angeles's Capital Expenditures on Wastewater Infrastructure, 1980-2000p. 84
4-1. Number of Federal Preemption Statutes Enacted per Decade, 1790-1999p. 97
5-1. Cross-National Comparison of Tort Costs as a Percentage of GDP, 1991p. 127
4-1. Major New Enactments Regulating State and Local Government, 1981-91p. 104
5-1. Federal Grants-in-Aid to the City of Philadelphia, 1992-95p. 124