The Economic and Political Impacts of Top-Down Territorial Reforms: The Case of Sub-City Governments

“Our findings indicate that higher levels of sub-city fragmentation lead to increased municipal government spending and transfers to sub-city governments, thus suggesting that the amalgamation of sub-city governments required by the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2011 by the Portuguese government, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank and mandated by national legislation has the potential to induce cost savings and to improve financial sustainability.”

The main objective of this manuscript is to test two competing hypotheses from the regionalism/localism literature regarding local government size. The Leviathan hypothesis argues that fragmentation induces lower spending through more decentralised government structures which are smaller relative to the size of the local economy. This argument is in sharp opposition with the supporters of regionalism who argue that territorial centralisation can produce economies of scale and significant cost savings, reduce overlaps and promote a more efficient local government.

These competing hypotheses derived from the literature are tested using data collected from all 278 local governments of continental Portugal. We measure local government size as both per capita total expenditures and per capita grant transfers to sub-city governments and territorial fragmentation as the number of sub-city governments per 1,000 individuals.

Published in Local Government Studies | António F. Tavares | 2015,,