Some public choice-influenced scholars claim that voluntary interlocal bargaining can effectively address city-suburb wealth disparities. On this view, economic interdependence encourages (comparatively) affluent suburbs to enter into “burden-sharing” agreements with cities, diminishing the need for so-called regional governments. This perspective holds that Virginia’s distinctive system of city-county separation is uniquely well-suited to the formation of such agreements. Interlocal burden sharing is rare in Virginia, however, and proponents’ example of such burden sharing—a tax base sharing scheme between Charlottesville and Albemarle County—is deficient in several respects.
This Note thus challenges the invocation of Virginia as a model to which other states might aspire. The paucity of burden sharing and the deficiencies of existing agreements stem from two weaknesses in the bargaining thesis. First, the conditions necessary to bargaining are frequently absent. For instance, Virginia’s annexation moratorium eviscerates cities’ bargaining power against counties. Second, and more fundamentally, the bargaining thesis neglects structural disincentives to bargaining resulting from Virginia’s system.
The weaknesses of the bargaining thesis have important repercussions for addressing interlocal inequities. Although some call for regional governments to cure disparities, such reforms are substantively undesirable and politically unfeasible. Similarly, Virginia’s now-dormant annexation system was problematic. Although annexation enhanced cities’ bargaining power, it also produced bitter conflicts. The annexation system also failed to promote significant burden sharing. Several reforms would realign suburban counties’ bargaining incentives, providing a means by which existing governmental entities can address metropolitan disparities.