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Cities and State Legislatures: Changing Coalitions and the Metropolitan Agenda, Working Paper 003 Open Access

Throughout American history cities have lobbied their states in order to obtain funding and to protect or enhance their legal authority. States are responsible for the foundational legislation that determines city powers and resources; likewise issues crucial to the fate of cities are fought out each year in state legislatures. The importance of state decision making for cities increased with the new federalism of the 1970s and it has continued to grow as the federal government has delegated more responsibility to state governments in recent decades. However, the enhanced importance of states comes at a time when cities have lost political strength in state legislatures. Once reliable urban strategies such as logrolling, coalitions with legislators from other distressed areas of the state, and control of the Democratic Party caucus are less effective in state legislatures as cities have lost population and as urban delegations have become less cohesive. As urban political strength has ebbed, a growing chorus of analysts has argued that cities can no longer go it alone and must engage in broader regional strategies in order to thrive. Our study examines whether cities have embraced these new ideas as they formulate their strategies in state politics. We ask two questions: First, what do cities want out of their state governments, i.e., what issues are at the top of their lobbying agenda? Second, what methods or coalitional strategies do they use to achieve their political goals? Focusing on politics in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and New York over the past decade we show that cities set defensive and reactive legislative priorities designed largely to preserve existing arrangements; urban leaders, especially mayors, showed little initiative in pressing for new regionalist ideas in these state legislatures. City leaders continued to rely heavily on older political strategies of logrolling and party caucus alliances. But as such strategies have become less dependable cities have looked to a much broader range of political alliances to win desired legislation. Their limited success suggests the need for more creative approaches to defining urban priorities in state legislatures and for more vigorous efforts to build common interests across geographical boundaries.


Wolman, Harold
Swanstrom, Todd
Weir, Margaret
Lyon, Nicholas
GW Unit
GW Institute of Public Policy
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The George Washington University
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