Do Fiscal Rules Matter?

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics - 8 (2016), 1-30

joint with Veronica Grembi and Ugo Troiano

Fiscal rules are laws aimed at reducing the incentive to accumulate debt, and many countries adopt them to discipline local governments. Yet, their eff ectiveness is disputed because of commitment and enforcement problems. We study their impact applying a quasi-experimental design in Italy. In 1999 the central government imposed scal rules on municipal governments, and in 2001 relaxed them below 5,000 inhabitants. We exploit the before/after and discontinuous policy variation, and show that relaxing scal rules increases de cit and lowers taxes. The eff ect is larger if the mayor can be reelected, the number of parties is higher, and voters are older.