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June 24 , 2009

Evaluating Public Programs: The Impact of General Revenue Sharing on Municipal Government


For effective program evaluation, it is necessary to specify a counterfactual state, i.e., what would have happened without the program. Conventional approaches to program evaluation, preoccupied with technical and value issues, fail to address directly the need for counterfactual arguments. They also fail to recognize the indispensable role of positive theories of technical and behavioral processes in making these arguments. In order to understand the impact of the General Revenue Sharing (GRS) program on the fiscal behavior of municipal governments, Patrick Larkey develops and demonstrates an unconventional approach to program evaluation that overcomes these failures.

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Drawing on the positive theories of budgetary decisionmaking processes as well as longitudinal revenue and expenditure data from primary sources, the author specifies, estimates, and tests four "bureaucratic process" models for each of five city governments receiving GRS funds. Using these models to generate complex, counterfactual hypotheses, he then compares the counterfactual patterns with observed patterns to understand the fiscal effects of GRS.

Originally published in 1979.

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