The Effects of Local Government Financial Distress: Evidence from Toxic Loans
We examine the response from both local governments and their voters to a sudden increase in public debt burden. We exploit plausibly exogenous variation in the ex post cost of toxic loans, a notorious financial innovation adopted by a large number of local governments. A large increase in the debt burden of a local government results in a significant reduction in its investments, but leaves expenses and taxes mostly unchanged. This effect is dampened for local governments that are more politically contested. An increase in public debt reduces the likelihood of re-election for incumbent mayor and its political party. Overall, these findings support the existence of a public debt overhang effect, which binds differently depending on the political context as contested mayors strive to maintain investments.
Co-Author(s): Julien Sauvagnat