Are Special Districts Strategic Complements or Strategic Substitutes?

Special districts
Public service provision
Local government

Christopher B. Goodman and Deborah A. Carroll. (Forthcoming) “Are Special Districts Strategic Complements or Strategic Substitutes?” Public Administration Review, doi: 10.1111/puar.13672


Northern Illinois University

University of Illinois at Chicago


December 2023



What happens to general-purpose local government spending for service provision when a special district enters the public service market? Theoretically, special districts can act either as complements by supplementing existing service provision spending or as substitutes by supplanting current service provision spending. We find a substitution effect using fixed effects regression on urban counties in the United States from 1972 to 2017. Special districts replace spending for public service provision by county governments; however, we find no similar result for municipal governments. But the results are nuanced–findings are confined mainly to public services that tend to cover large land areas like fire protection, sewerage, and solid waste management. Furthermore, we find evidence that day-to-day operations drive observed substitution, and that county size is an important factor depending on the functional service area.


BibTeX citation:
  author = {Christopher B. Goodman and Deborah A. Carroll},
  title = {Are Special Districts Strategic Complements or Strategic
  journal = {Public Administration Review},
  date = {2023-05-31},
  url = {},
  doi = {10.1111/puar.13672},
  langid = {en}