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State-Local Centralization During the Great Depression: A Case Study of Ohio

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  • Political Science


During the Great Depression, state governments assumed many of the revenue-raising and public good provision responsibilities traditionally carried out by local governments, which had important consequences for taxation and public good provision. In order to investigate the causes of this centralization, this paper focuses on Ohio, which underwent one of the most dramatic transformations in government among all states during this period. Contrary to previous work, I find that centralization came about as a response to the needs of state taxpayers and local governments, not the New Deal. The state government was, moreover, responsive to the needs of taxpayers and local governments but both voters and politicians were reluctant to expand state government, which would have overturned a long tradition of local government dominance and self-rule. It was only when the pre-existing local institutions broke down under the weight of the Depression that the state stepped in as a substitute. In doing so, it inaugurated a new era in American federalism.

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