Voting, Annexation, and Metropolitan Structure: A Comment on Gillette – Commentary by William A. Fischel

From Volume 78, Number 4 (May 2005)

This Comment on Professor Gillette’s article offers an economic way of thinking about voting on annexation and incorporation. It is not a criticism of his article in the ordinary sense. Indeed, the major conclusion that follows from the analytical model is that concurrent voting on annexation, which Gillette generally favors, is economically desirable.

To be clear, concurrent voting means here that the annexation must be approved by a majority of voters or their representatives in the existing city that seeks to annex some territory and by a majority of the voters in the territory to be annexed. If the proposed annexation fails to achieve a majority in either jurisdiction, the proposal fails. In what follows, the more critical majority is that of the territory to be annexed, not that of the annexing city.

The contribution of this Comment is rather one of perspective. Annexation and incorporation decisions affect how a metropolitan area is governed, and governance of metropolitan areas affects their economic performance. My model shows that the prospect of capital gains in land values will, in some plausible situations, normally make voters make the right decisions for the larger metropolitan area. In order not to be too Pollyannaish about this process, I will conclude by pointing out some situations in which this sanguine result might not apply.