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Government Redistribution in the Shadow of Legislative Elections: A Study of the Illinois Member Initiative Grants Program (WP-02-41)

Michael C. Herron and Brett A. Theodos

Government redistribution programs designed by elected legislatures are subject to political manipulation insofar as the legislators who design such programs can use them to boost aggregate wealth levels in key electoral districts, ignore districts of lesser importance, and so forth. In light of this, we study the properties of an Illinois state government program called “member initiative spending” and examine the extent to which three competing theories, two of which draw explicitly on electoral competition and one of which is apolitical, are able to explain this program’s funding allocations across Illinois. Among the state’s 118 House districts we show that monies distributed by the member initiative spending program in the year and a half prior to the 2000 general election were disproportionately allocated to districts that were politically competitive, to districts represented by House legislative leaders, and to districts represented by relatively moderate legislators. We find essentially no evidence that, as one might imagine in light of the member initiative spending program’s ostensible purpose, member initiative funds were channeled to poor or otherwise needy Illinois House districts. Overall, our analysis lends support to theories that posit that budgetary decisions made by elected officials prior to elections are tactical, and it also shows that the decision makers who allocated Illinois’s member initiative spending pie prior to the 2000 general election had one eye solidly planted on upcoming political battles and possibly another on Illinois’s future development.

Michael C. Herron, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

Brett A. Theodos, June 2002 graduate, Northwestern University

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