China’s massive stimulus spending has raised widespread concerns about local government finances. Local governments have ramped up infrastructure spending since late 2008, while they are also under pressure to spend more on health, education, and social security, for which they are in large part responsible. With monetary conditions likely to become tighter this year and land revenues possibly slowing down or even declining, local government finances may become strained.
At the heart of the concerns are local government investment platforms. These are state-owned-enterprise (SOE)-type entities set up to finance infrastructure construction and urban development—sometimes also called Urban Development and Construction Companies. Set up in part to circumvent rules prohibiting local governments from borrowing, their investment activities are mainly financed by land sale revenue and bank financing, often using as collateral land requisitioned from local residents.
Decentralization has been a buzz word in the development world for a while, but disagreements remain about when and how different types of decentralization are successful in improving accountability and service delivery. Although decentralization is often used as a monolithic concept, the term can include political, fiscal, administrative or market decentralization, and can involve var