Municipal Reform Act

Municipal Reform Act

In 1835 the Municipal Reform Act was passed by Parliament. As a result 178 boroughs were granted permission to allow the townspeople to have their own councils. The 1835 Act stated that:

(a) all ratepayers should have a vote in council elections;

(b) each town was to be dived into wards, with councillors being elected for each ward;

(c) the elected councillors were to chose aldermen who would form one-quarter of the council;

(d) the council was to elect a mayor;

(e) the council might, if it wished, take over such matters as the water supply;

(f) the council had to take responsibility for the local police force. Over the next thirty years other boroughs were given permission to have elected town councils and gradually these bodies took over the control of local services such as street lighting, housing and education.


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The 1835 Municipal Corporations Act

After the passing of the 1832 Reform Act the next logical step in the reform of the constitution was that of the Municipal Corporations. There were about 250 of these towns, each of which had received a Royal Charter at some time in the past to have its own council or corporation. There were great variations in how the corporations were chosen and how they functioned but in over 180 of them, only the members of the Corporation were allowed to vote. Normally they re-elected themselves or brought friends and relatives onto the council. The Commission found generally that power was held by a small number of people because so few townsfolk could vote. They also found evidence of corruption with the council members becoming rich at the expense of the town's inhabitants.

Corporation funds are frequently expended in feasting and in paying the salaries of unimportant officers. In some cases, in which the funds are expended on public works, an expense has been incurred beyond what would be necessary if due care had been taken. These abuses often originate in negligence . in the opportunity afforded of obliging members of their own body, or the friends and relations of such members.

Parliamentary Papers (1835) XXIII. Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations

The corporations fixed the local bye-laws and taxes and it was impossible for the majority of rate-payers to remove unpopular councils because they could not be voted out. Most of the corporations used their privileges for personal and party advantage: the majority were Tory. Councils ignored matters like water supplies, drainage and street cleansing which they were supposed to oversee.

Even worse than this, most of the new industrial towns had not been recognised as boroughs and had no corporation at all. In these towns, living conditions deteriorated and the overcrowded slums were a threat to public health. In October 1831 the first cholera epidemic broke out in Sunderland and spread rapidly throughout the country. By January 1832 cholera had broken out both in Edinburgh and London.

Following the same procedures that had been adopted for the investigation of the Poor Laws, in July 1833 the Whig government set up a Royal Commission was to investigate the working of local councils. The Commission's secretary was Joseph Parkes, a radical lawyer. 285 towns were investigated, most of which were found to be unsatisfactory. As a result of the Commission's findings, a Bill was drawn up and brought to the House of Commons by Lord John Russell in June 1835.

The Bill went through the House of Commons without too much difficulty but the House of Lords proved more difficult. Most of the closed corporations were controlled by Tories and the Tory peers claimed that the Bill was an attack on privileges and property. They had used the same reasons to oppose the abolition of rotten boroughs during the 1832 Reform Act campaign. The Lords made some amendments to the Bill but, thanks to the efforts of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, the Tory Lords were restrained from throwing out the Bill altogether. The legislation went onto the Statute Book in September 1835.

Terms of the Act

  • All closed corporations were abolished
  • Borough councils were to be elected by all male ratepayers who had lived in the town for three years
  • Councillors were elected for three years at a time and one-third of the council was to be elected annually
  • Councillors would choose the mayor, who would hold office for one year
  • Councillors would choose a group of Aldermen who would hold office for six years
  • Each borough was to have a paid town clerk and treasurer. Accounts were to be properly audited
  • Councils were required to form a police force
  • Councils, if they so wished, could take over social improvements such as proper drainage and street cleaning
  • Towns and cities that had no council could apply for incorporation if they so wished

Comment

The Act provided a vast improvement over the previous system, which was haphazard and disorganised. It also established the principal of elected town councils. Progress was very slow but the Act at least established the machinery that would enable future reforms to be carried out in the towns. However, the legislation did have several failings:

  • The Act did not compel the new councils to make social improvements. Consequently, by 1848 only twenty-nine boroughs had taken any action in terms of public health
  • Many towns failed to apply for incorporation because the procedure was complicated and expensive. In 1848 there were still sixty-two large towns without councils.
  • The Act mainly benefited the middle classes. Very few working men were wealthy enough to be ratepayers.

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Municipal Reform Act - History

fter the passing of the 1832 Reform Act the next logical step in the reform of the constitution was that of the Municipal Corporations. There were about 250 of these towns, each of which at some time in the past had received a Royal Charter to have its own council or corporation. There were great variations in how the corporations were chosen and how they functioned but in over 180 of them, only the members of the Corporation were allowed to vote. Normally they re-elected themselves or brought friends and relatives onto the council. The Commission found generally that power was held by a small number of people because so few townsfolk could vote. They also found evidence of corruption with the council members becoming rich at the expense of the town's inhabitants.

Following the same procedures that had been adopted for the investigation of the Poor Laws, in July 1833 the Whig government set up a Royal Commission was set up to investigate the working of local councils. The Commission's secretary was Joseph Parkes, a radical lawyer. 285 towns were investigated, most of which were found to be unsatisfactory. As a result of the Commission's findings, a Bill was drawn up and brought to the House of Commons by Lord John Russell in June 1835.

The Bill went through the House of Commons without too much difficulty but the House of Lords proved more difficult. Most of the closed corporations were controlled by Tories and the Tory peers claimed that the Bill was an attack on privileges and property. They had used the same reasons to oppose the abolition of rotten boroughs during the 1832 Reform Act campaign. The Lords made some amendments to the Bill but, thanks to the efforts of the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, the Tory Lords were restrained from throwing out the Bill altogether. The legislation went onto the Statute Book in September 1835.

The following extracts from the Report explain some of the worst defects of local government:

The most common and most striking defect . is that the corporate bodies exist independently of the communities among which they are found. The Corporations look upon themselves, and are considered by the inhabitants, as separate and exclusive bodies they have powers and privileges within the towns and cities from which they are named, but in most places all identity of interest between the Corporation and the inhabitants has disappeared. This is the case even where the Corporation includes a large body of inhabitant freemen: it appears in a more striking degree, as the powers of the Corporation have been restricted to smaller numbers of the resident population, and still more glaringly, when the local privileges have been conferred on non-resident freemen, to the exclusion of the inhabitants to whom they rightfully ought to belong.

The importance which the privilege of electing Members of Parliament has conferred upon Corporate Towns, or rather upon the governing bodies there, and the rewards for political services, which are brought within the reach of the ruling corporators, have caused this function to be considered in many places as the sole object of their institution. In some Boroughs this right has survived all other traces of municipal authority. The custom of keeping the number of corporators as low as possible may be referred to this cause, rather than to the desire of monopolizing the municipal authority, which has been coveted only as the means of securing die other and more highly prized privilege.

In some cases the duties of the mayor have been totally neglected, either from want of capacity or from want of will occasionally from non-residence. At Hartlepool, where the mayor is chosen in rotation from the capital burgesses, many of whom are non-resident, it sometimes happens that the mayor never attends even to be sworn into office. At Winchester, the present high steward was chosen mayor during an important litigation in which the Corporation was involved. He was the son of the patron, and was admitted a freeman the year before his election as mayor. The mayor was ex officio a member of the committee for conducting the litigation but he appointed a deputy, and entered on the records of the Corporation a protest of his ignorance of all relating to it. At Durham, the mayor of the year 1831-2 refused to render the usual account of receipts to the common council. The mayor of Grampound left the borough upon its disfranchisement [in 1819], and the corporation books and accounts have not been found since. No new mayor was elected after the disfranchisement, until the year in which the present Commission issued. In some boroughs, the same mayor is continued from year to year and in others, as at Cambridge and Tenby, it has been the custom to elect two or three persons in rotation. The effect of entrusting the election to the freemen, constituted as those freemen now generally are, is to degrade the office in the estimation of the persons to be governed. At Maidstone, the election is merely a struggle to try the strength of opposing parties without any personal preference, and bribes are given by persons wishing to avoid being elected.

The method of appointing the Recorder is often very objectionable. At Newport, in the Isle of Wight, the recorder is appointed formally by the Crown on the nomination of the whole corporation, but practically on the dictation of the patron. On one occasion, a nobleman was chosen recorder there, whose connexion with the Corporation consisted in his being a trustee for the managing the property of a deceased patron. At Woodstock, the recorder£s office has been vacant for several years, because the patron£s nominee was opposed. The Recorders of some boroughs are elected by a constituency of freemen. At Berwick-upon-Tweed, a Recorder so chosen, tries capital felonies. This officer also unites functions in some cases, which are improperly joined. This occurs when he lives in the neighbourhood and discharges the duties of a resident magistrate, at the same time that he is by virtue of his office, the presiding judge of the Criminal Court. In many instances he performs no duties whatever, and his nominal connexion with the borough is only a form through which he exercises over it an unwarrantable control.

The charters have often empowered the Recorder to appoint a deputy. The exercise of this power is occasionally useful but the practice of appointing a deputy permanently to discharge all the duties of the Recorder is very mischievous. Not only is the appointment placed in the hands of an irresponsible individual, but the difficulty of finding qualified persons to fill the situation is increased. Many persons would accept the office of principal, who would decline the office of deputy.

The party spirit which pervades the Municipal councils, extends itself to the magistracy, which is appointed by those bodies, and from their members. The magistrates are usually chosen from the aldermen, and the aldermen are generally political partisans. Hence, even in those cases in which injustice is not absolutely committed, a strong suspicion of it is excited, and the local tribunals cease to inspire respect. The corporate Magistrates, generally speaking, are not looked upon by the inhabitants with favour or respect, and are often regarded with positive distrust and dislike.

The corporate magistrates are often selected from a class incompetent to the discharge of judicial functions, and the consequence has been a great defect in the administration of justice. At East Retford, a respectable witness who had been clerk to the magistrates, declared that one of the magistrates was in the habit of conversing familiarly with the culprits brought before him, and endeavoured to impress them with the idea that he was performing an unwilling office. On one occasion he saw the magistrate fighting with a prisoner, and struggling with him on the floor. At Malmesbury, the magistrates are often unable to write or read. At Wenlock blank warrants have been signed by the magistrates: in one case a blank warrant of commitment was granted by mistake, instead of one of apprehension, and the constable had it in his possession for several weeks before he executed it. The jurisdiction of the borough magistrates at Wenlock is exclusive it extends over 17 parishes, and contains a population exceeding 17,000 persons.

Even when the corporate magistrates belong to a superior class, they are often selected from the senior aldermen only, who, from age and infirmities, soon become incapable of performing the functions of their office, while a mistaken notion of dignity keeps them from resigning it.

The evils resulting from the ignorance and inefficiency of the borough magistrates are heightened by gross defects in other parts of the judicial system. The juries of the borough courts are often exclusively taken from the freemen, who, besides being composed of an inferior class, are strongly tainted with party feelings. Northampton furnishes a strong instance of this. At Carmarthen, verdicts are frequently given against justice, from party bias. The population of that town is 10,000, but the jurors are chosen from a small body of 178 burgesses. At the spring assizes of 1833, a true bill was found by the grand jury of the borough for a capital felony. The grand jury consisted of 20 burgesses of these, 17 belonged to the Corporation party, and the foreman was the committing magistrate. The panel of the petty jury contained 46 persons belonging to the Corporation party, 12 of the defendants£ party, and only two neutrals. An application was made to the judge, to order the indictment to be tried in Carmarthenshire. The trial took place there, and the defendants were acquitted. The very answer to this statement was given by one of the sheriffs, who said that there was not a sufficient number of respectable persons of the defendants£ party, to enable them to summon a grand jury equally from both sides, and that the Petty jury was summoned from those burgesses who had not attended the previous assizes. At Haverford West, where none but burgesses can serve on the juries, there are only 141 burgesses, and not 50 who are fit to serve on them: the juries there have been openly reprimanded by judges and magistrates for improper acquittals of burgesses upon criminal prosecutions the practice has not been checked by such reprimands, and the general opinion is, that it is £impossible to convict a burgess.£

The police belonging to Municipal Corporations is for the most part very sufficient, and for supplying the deficiency, resort is had to local Acts. The superintendence of the police and the powers necessary for watching, paving, lighting, cleaning and supplying the towns with water, instead of being entrusted to the municipal authorities, are for the most part committed by these Acts to various independent bodies although none of these towns are too extensive to be embraced by one system of municipal government for instance, every quarter of the town of Bath is under the care of a separate board, except one, which is totally unprotected. Much confusion results from this divided authority. The powers of local taxation, and the superintendence of matters so closely connected with the comfort and well being of the inhabitants, which are now exercised by these bodies, appear to belong precisely to that class of objects for which corporate authority was originally conferred but great dissatisfaction would prevail among the inhabitants, if these powers were entrusted to the Municipal Corporations as at present constituted. In several towns much apathy is now shown by the inhabitants with respect to the municipal benefits conferred by these Acts in Southampton, where the consent of the inhabitants is required to bring them within the powers of a local Act, nearly half of the town has refused the benefit of it. Great jealousy often exists between the officers of police, acting under the Corporation and those under the Commissioners of these local Acts, and the corporate body seldom takes any active share in the duties of the board, of which its members form a part. At Bristol, a notoriously ineffective police cannot be improved, chiefly in consequence of the jealousy with which the Corporation is regarded by the inhabitants. At Hull, in consequence of the disunion between the governing body and the inhabitants, chiefly arising out of a dispute about the tolls and duties, only seven persons attended to suppress a riot, out of 5,000 who had been sworn in as special constables, and on another similar occasion none attended. At Coventry, serious riots and disturbances frequently occur, and the officers of police, being usually selected from one political party, are often active in fomenting them. In some instances, the separate and conflicting authority of the Commissioners is avowedly used as a check and counterbalance to the political influence of the Corporation. At Leeds, no persons are elected Commissioners of Police whose political principles are not opposed to those of the Corporation.

An ineffectual attempt to obviate the evils resulting from the want of a well-organized system is made in some towns by subscriptions for private watchmen. At Winchester, after a local Act had been obtained, its powers were found to be insufficient, and the town is now watched by private subscription, to which the commissioners contribute £100 from the rate. The superintendence of the paving and lighting. &c., of the various towns is in the same unsatisfactory state, but, in this branch of police, the want of a single presiding authority leads perhaps to less evil and inconvenience.

In conclusion, we report to Your Majesty that there prevails amongst the inhabitants of a great majority of the incorporated towns a general and a just dissatisfaction with their Municipal Institutions a distrust of the self-elected Municipal Councils, whose powers are subject to no popular control, and whose acts and proceedings being secret, are unchecked by the influence of public opinion a distrust of the Municipal Magistracy, tainting with suspicion the local administration of justice, and often accompanied with contempt of the persons by whom the law is administered a discontent under the burthens of local taxation, while revenues that ought to be applied for the public advantage are diverted from their legitimate use, and are sometimes wastefully bestowed for the benefit of individuals, sometimes squandered for purposes injurious to the character and morals of the people. We therefore feel it to be our duty to represent to Your Majesty that the existing Municipal Corporations of England and Wales neither possess nor deserve the confidence or respect of Your Majesty's subjects, and that a thorough reform must be elected, before they can become, what we humbly submit to Your Majesty they ought to be, useful and efficient instruments of local government.


Propositions 68 and 73

Voters simultaneously passed two political reform initiatives in 1988. Proposition 68, a measure sponsored by Common Cause, provided contribution limits with public financing for legislative election campaigns. Proposition 73, an initiative sponsored by members of the Legislature, was a more comprehensive campaign finance reform measure that did not include public financing. The electorate approved both ballot measures, with Proposition 73 receiving the most votes.

The California Supreme Court subsequently ruled that when two competing comprehensive reform schemes are enacted at the same time, it will not sort through the provisions to determine which parts are compatible after the election. (Taxpayers to Limit Campaign Spending v. Fair Political Practices Comm. (1990) 51 Cal.3d 744.) Only the ballot measure with the most votes will prevail--in this case, Proposition 73.

The contribution limits and the inter-candidate transfer ban in Proposition 73 were later invalidated in federal court on the basis that the limits were applied on a fiscal year basis, which favored incumbents. (Service Employees International Union v. Fair Political Practices Comm. (9th Cir. 1992) 955 F.2d 1312.) Some provisions of Proposition 73 remain in effect (although many have been repealed by Proposition 34, discussed below).

Proposition 73 also prohibits public financing of elections. However, this prohibition does not prevent a charter city from establishing a public financing scheme. (Johnson v. Bradley (1992) 4 Cal.4th 389.) Finally, Proposition 73 requires candidates to have one campaign bank account for each election.


Justifying a Federal Subsidy for State and Local Borrowing

The most basic question that pertains to the tax treatment of municipal bonds is whether the federal government should be subsidizing state and local borrowing (or infrastructure spending) in the first place.

There is a compelling theoretical case to be made that such a subsidy will lead state and local governments to spend too much on infrastructure.[33] For instance, we can imagine a state government deciding whether to spend $10 million on building a new highway, which is expected to deliver $9 million in economic benefits. Because the costs of the highway outweigh the expected benefits, then the state government should not construct it. However, if the state receives a $1.5 million subsidy from the federal government for building a new highway, it will go ahead with the project, even though the highway is a socially wasteful investment.

However, there is also a case that, in the absence of a subsidy for infrastructure spending, state and local governments would spend too little on infrastructure.[34] Here, we can imagine a state government deciding whether to spend $10 million on a new highway, which is expected to deliver $11 million in economic benefits. However, $2 million of the benefits of the highway will go to individuals and businesses outside of the state, such that the state government expects the highway project to deliver only $9 million in benefits to its residents. If the state only cares about helping its own residents, it will not go forward with the project. However, if the state receives a $1.5 million subsidy from the federal government for building a highway, it will go ahead with the project the federal subsidy will incentivize the state to make a socially beneficial investment.

This is the standard economic argument for a federal subsidy for state and local infrastructure spending: without such a subsidy, state and local governments might underinvest in infrastructure projects that benefit nonresidents.[35]

As a result, the desirability of a federal subsidy for state and local infrastructure spending depends on two empirical questions. First, to what extent do state and local infrastructure projects actually benefit nonresidents? Second, to what extent are state and local governments already able to shift their tax burden to nonresidents, without the help of a federal subsidy?

The first question – regarding the extent to which the benefits of state and local infrastructure spill over to nonresidents – is extremely difficult to answer. Writing in 2001, Mila Freire and Richard E. Stren comment, “The basic problem… is that no one, anywhere, has a good idea of the magnitude of spillovers associated with particular services.”[36] It is not even entirely clear which categories of state and local infrastructure have the largest spillovers to nonresidents. For instance, it might seem intuitive that state highways would deliver significant benefits to out-of-state residents, but a well-known 1995 paper by Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Amy Ellen Schwartz found no evidence that state highways deliver productivity benefits beyond a state’s borders.[37]

Because it is difficult to assess whether the benefits of an infrastructure project will spill over to nonresidents, it is likely that any federal subsidy for state and local infrastructure spending will end up subsidizing some projects that only benefit residents. In these cases, the federal government would be encouraging state and local governments to overinvest in infrastructure – an inevitable side effect of subsidizing infrastructure spending.

The second question – regarding the extent to which state and local governments are able to shift their tax burdens onto nonresidents – is a crucial one. To return to the example above: if a state government were considering a $10 million highway that will deliver $9 million in benefits to its residents and $2 million in benefits to nonresidents, it would ordinarily not construct the highway. However, if the state is able to raise an additional $2 million in taxes on out-of-state commuters, then it will indeed go ahead with the project. In this case, there would be no need for a federal subsidy to incentivize the state to make a socially beneficial investment.

Indeed, there is evidence that states and localities are already able to shift their tax burdens to nonresidents, without the help of federal subsidies – a practice known as “tax exporting.” A recent Tax Foundation report estimates that 22 percent of state and local taxes are collected from nonresidents, through sales taxes on tourists, income taxes on commuters, and similar measures.[38]

The fact that state and local governments have the ability to collect taxes from nonresidents undercuts the standard economic case for a federal subsidy for state and local investment. In the absence of such a federal subsidy, states and localities may still have sufficient incentives to fund socially beneficial projects that benefit nonresidents, because of the ability to export their tax burdens.

To sum up, federal policymakers should be wary of the possibility that subsidizing state and local investments will lead these governments to spend too much on infrastructure.[39] At the same time, they should be eager to find ways to target federal subsidies towards those state and local investments with the largest spillover benefits.


The Obscure Law That Enabled Trump’s Subversion of the Electoral College

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion about voting rights with two Democratic members of Congress, during which time I took the opportunity to draw their attention to a hitherto little-discussed law that played a big role in accelerating President Donald Trump’s outlandish efforts to subvert the 2020 election: the Electoral Count Act of 1887, or ECA. Little did I know that days later, this law would find itself having a moment: In an interview with Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker, election law expert Rick Hasen fixed his gaze on this law as he outlined his plan to shore up the integrity of our elections.

The attention is deserved. At the moment, the Democratic majority in Congress is deliberating two major bills on voting rights and electoral reform, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Whether Democrats can muster enough support and overcome a filibuster to pass both bills, or either of them, remains to be seen. In any event, once the result is known, Congress should turn its attention to another urgent measure to stabilize American democracy: reforming the ECA.

The ECA is a strange thing to explain, much like the Electoral College itself. To understand how American presidential elections really work, imagine that the Electoral College is a car. Different people want different things when they buy a car. Some are happy with a Toyota Camry. Others want a Tesla Model 3. But every car owner fundamentally wants one thing: a vehicle that will take them from Point A to Point B. If a dealer told you that a car would only get to your destination roughly nine times out of 10, you probably wouldn’t buy it.

The Electoral College, for its part, will get you where you want to go—well, most of the time. In all but a handful of elections throughout American history, the winner of the popular vote became the president, and the electors merely formalized the result. But the Electoral College is not your typical vehicle for democratic expression. Sometimes the driver wants to go from Point A to Point B and ends up at Point C instead, with George W. Bush or Donald Trump in charge of things. And sometimes it will drive you straight into a ditch.

That’s what happened in 1876. After Election Day, the Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden, had 184 electoral votes while the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, had 165 electoral votes. A further 20 electoral votes remained in limbo—enough to give Hayes a narrow victory. In three states, the results had been marred by white-supremacist violence against Republican voters and episodes of electoral fraud. An Electoral College deadlock—and a destabilizing constitutional crisis—appeared inevitable unless Congress could decide which slates of electors to recognize.

Leaders from both parties eventually formed a commission to resolve the dispute, which awarded the electors—and thus the presidency—to Hayes. Democrats agreed to accept the result and avoid bloodshed in exchange for Republicans’ implicit promise to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending the Reconstruction era. Years later, Congress sought to formalize the process for resolving disputed presidential elections to prevent a repeat of the 1876 crisis. The result was the Electoral Count Act of 1887.

The ECA fills in some of the gaps in the Electoral College process. The Constitution states that “the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.” If no candidate gets a majority in the Electoral College, the Constitution also prescribes an alternative mechanism: The House and Senate elect the president and vice president, respectively, with each state’s delegation receiving a single vote in the House. That last provision was the crux of Trump’s efforts to invalidate Biden’s results in each state and stay in power. Though Democrats had a majority in the House on January 6, Republicans had a majority in more state delegations, and Trump likely would have prevailed if the Electoral College itself had deadlocked.

But the Constitution itself is unclear on what happens if there’s a dispute over the electors themselves while the votes are counted. The ECA lays out the procedures for what happens if a state’s results are questioned, as well as if multiple sets of electors are presented to the vice president for the formal count. These provisions allowed groups of Republican lawmakers to launch baseless and inflammatory challenges to the 2020 results. They justified their actions by pointing to symbolic challenges made by a handful of House Democrats in past elections, which did not reflect a genuine effort to change the outcome.

One reform that Congress could make would be to make it harder to challenge any individual state’s result. “One of the provisions in there says you only need an objection from one senator and one representative in order to go into separate trial sessions to negotiate over whether or not Electoral College votes should be accepted or rejected,” Hasen explained. “There should be a much higher threshold, and there should be a substantive standard for rejecting those votes, so we would not see something like 147 members of Congress that voted to object to state Electoral College votes on January 6.”

Trump’s rally on that day was billed as a show of strength to pressure Congress into overturning the results in his favor. He pressed individual lawmakers to challenge the state results, and even demanded that former Vice President Mike Pence throw out electoral votes for Biden at his own discretion. Pence, after consulting with lawyers and the ECA itself, publicly announced that he would do no such thing. A Trump-aligned mob stormed the Capitol later that day, with some members chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” for his perceived betrayal. Clarifying that the vice president has no substantive role in deciding the election’s outcome—particularly for an election where they may have been a candidate—should be a no-brainer.

There are some indications that Congress might be open to revisiting the ECA’s terms and conditions. Last year, Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced a bill that would push back the law’s safe-harbor deadline for states to finish counting and certifying results by one month. Though the proposal did not become law, it received the support of a broad swath of election-law scholars and state election officials. New York magazine’s Ed Kilgore, writing on this topic in April, reported that he was “reliably informed” that a group of scholars would publicly propose reforms to the ECA in the near future.

“Perhaps the January 6 nightmare was like an especially rare comet or cicada swarm that we don’t need to worry about for a while,” Kilgore wrote. “But its inspirer, Donald J. Trump, has not gone away. More important, the idea that presidential election contests should be extended to the last possible moment prior to Inauguration Day, based on arguments like Trump’s assertion that ‘we can’t lose unless it’s rigged,’ is pernicious and self-replicating.”

The mob aside, Trump and his allies stood no chance of successfully overturning the results in January. A Democratic-led House was not going to vote in favor of throwing out electoral votes for Joe Biden, and some Republicans also rejected the effort at the time. But there is no certainty that Americans will be so lucky in 2024. If Republicans retake the House in 2022 and Trump runs again in 2024 and loses, they will mount another attempt to subvert the will of the people and may stand a better chance of succeeding. Congress can’t prevent Trump from driving the country down this path, but it can at least make it harder for him to drive American democracy into a ditch.


The Peel Web

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The Reform Act Crisis: topic page

  • Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts against parliamentary reform: 2 November 1830
  • The Parliamentary Debate on the introduction of the Reform Bill: 02 March 1831
  • The case for parliamentary reform: 1 March 1831
  • The Parliamentary Debate on the introduction of the Reform Bill: 02 March 1831NB this is a VERY long document and will take at least 35 secs. to load.
  • "Reform that you may preserve" Extracts from a speech by Thomas Babbington Macaulay, 2 March 1831 on the Reform Bill: 3 March 1831 on the Reform Bill: 3 March 1831 , 22 April 1831 on Parliamentary Reform: 6 July 1831
  • The Bristol Riots 29&ndash31 October 1831 to Parliament: 12 December 1831 in the Debate upon the Second Reading of the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill: 17 December 1831
  • Peel's criticism of parliamentary reform: 17 December 1831
  • Clumber House in a State of Defence
  • The Reform Bill: parliamentary representation from a speech made by TB Macaulay on 28 February 1832.
  • The Duke of Wellington and reform: 17 May 1832 and parliamentary reform: 17 May 1832
  • Place's letter to Hobhouse 1832 (Reform Act Crisis)
  • Peel's opposition to the Reform Act 1832
  • Benjamin Disraeli's A Year at Hartlebury or The Election
  • An election in the Midlands (George Eliot)
  • Lord Monmouth after the Reform Bill from Disraeli's Coningsby
  • Lord John Russell's "finality" speech: 20 November 1837 in the Reformed Era
  • The Constitution before the 1832 Reform Act
  • The Catholic Association
  • Wellington's 1830 ministry
  • Political Unions
  • The Birmingham Political Union
  • Tory arguments against reform
  • Whig reasons for reform
  • The Reform Act: Table of Events
  • The Campaign for the 1832 Reform Act
  • The Reform Act Crisis
  • The Reform Act Crisis: model essay
  • Terms of the Reform Act
  • Thomas Attwood
  • Francis Place
  • William Cobbett (1808 — 27 March 1878) -- a Nottingham rioter
  • Michael Brock The Reform Act of 1832

Model essay “Reform was the dynamic that drove the political process in Britain up to 1850”. Discuss with reference to more than one movement for political, social or economic reform in this period.
The British beehive, 1867

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.


The State of State (and Local) Tax Policy

Municipal bonds (a term that encompasses both state and local government debt) are obligations that entitle owners to periodic interest payments plus repayment of principal at a specified date. States and localities (cities, townships, counties, school districts, and special districts) issue bonds primarily to pay for large, expensive, and long-lived capital projects.

State and local governments issue bonds to pay for large, expensive, and long-lived capital projects, such as roads, bridges, airports, schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, power plants, courthouses, and other public buildings. Although states and localities can and sometimes do pay for capital investments with current revenues, borrowing allows them to spread the costs across multiple generations. Future project users bear some of the cost through higher taxes or tolls, fares, and other charges that help service the debts.

States and localities issue short-term debt or notes to help smooth uneven cash flows (e.g., when tax revenues arrive in April but expenditures occur throughout the year). They also issue debt on behalf of private entities (e.g., to build projects with public benefit or for so-called public-private partnerships).

HOW LARGE IS THE MUNI BOND MARKET?

At the end of 2019, state and local governments had $3.85 trillion in debt outstanding (figure 1). About 98 percent of this debt was long term or with a maturity of 13 months or longer, while the remaining 2 percent was short term. As in most years, roughly 40 percent of municipal debt was issued by states and 60 percent by local governments.

Although municipal debt has more than tripled in nominal terms since the mid-1980s, the change is less dramatic as a percentage of gross domestic product.

States vary widely in their long-term municipal debt outstanding (figure 2).

What Are the Main Types of State and Local Government Debt?

General obligation bonds are backed by an issuer’s “full faith and credit,” including its power to tax. Bonds may also be secured by future revenue streams, such as dedicated sales taxes or tolls and other user charges generated by the project being financed.

General obligation bonds typically require voter approval and are subject to limits on total debt outstanding. Revenue bonds and bonds secured by anticipated legislative appropriations are not subject to these requirements or limits. In 2018, roughly 58 percent of state and local issuances were revenue bonds, 36 percent were general obligation bonds, and 6 percent were private placements.

Who Holds State and Local Government Debt?

Most state and local bonds are held by households, followed by mutual funds (which also represent household investors) (figure 3). Banks and life insurance companies used to be more prominent municipal bond holders until the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and subsequent litigation limited the advantages of doing so.

How Does the Federal Tax Exemption Work and What Are Proposals for Reform?

Since its inception in 1913, the federal income tax has exempted interest payments received from municipal bonds from taxable income. State and local governments also typically exempt interest on bonds issued by taxpayers’ state of residence. However, the US Supreme Court in Department of Revenue of Ky. v. Davis upheld states’ ability to tax interest on bonds issued by other jurisdictions.

Because of the federal tax exemption, state and local governments can borrow more cheaply than other debt issuers, such as corporations, for a given level of risk and length of maturity. The federal tax exemption therefore functions as a federal subsidy to state and local public infrastructure investment. This subsidy comes at a cost in foregone tax revenues, estimated at $28 billion in fiscal year 2020.

The federal tax exemption has been criticized as inefficient because high-bracket taxpayers receive more than the inducement needed to purchase municipal bonds. In 2018, for example, a high-grade tax-exempt municipal bond yielded 3.53 percent. The yield for a comparable taxable corporate bond was 3.93 percent. Thus, taxpayers whose federal tax rate is about 10 percent should be just indifferent between the two types of bonds (the gap in yields—0.4 percentage points—is about 10 percent of 3.93 percentage points). Anyone in a higher tax bracket receives a windfall that generates no additional benefit for the borrower.

In light of this inefficiency, proposals have long circulated to cap the federal tax exemption, most recently by former Vice President Joe Biden among his 2020 campaign tax proposals. However, the revenue gain from eliminating or capping the deduction would depend on whether states and localities responded by issuing as many or fewer bonds and whether bondholders responded by shifting their portfolios toward taxable bonds or other investments (Poterba and Verdugo 2011). It is also difficult to hold constant all relevant bond features, including risk, time to maturity, fixed versus variable interest payments, and liquidity (Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation 2009).

Notably, President Donald Trump’s most recent budget proposals have not suggested a cap on the bond interest exemption.

Updated May 2020

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “Financial Accounts of the United States.” March 12, 2020.

Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. “US Municipal Issuance.” https://www.sifma.org/resources/research/us-municipal-issuance/.

Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “State and Local Finance Initiative Data Query System.” Accessed March 9, 2020.

US Census Bureau. Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances. Government Finances, Volume 4, and Census of Governments (2017). Accessed March 9, 2020.

. Census of Governments, vol. 4, Government Finances.

Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation. 2009. “Subsidizing Infrastructure Investment with Tax-Preferred Bonds.” Washington, DC: Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.

Galper, Harvey, Kim Rueben, Richard Auxier, and Amanda Eng. 2014. “Municipal Debt: What Does It Buy and Who Benefits?” National Tax Journal 67 (4): 901–24.

Maguire, Steven. 2012. “Tax-Exempt Bonds: A Description of State and Local Government Debt.” RL30638. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 2012. “Report on the Municipal Securities Market.” Washington, DC: SEC.

Zimmerman, Dennis. 2005. “Tax Exempt Bonds.” in The Encyclopedia of Taxation and Tax Policy, 2nd ed., edited by Joseph J. Cordes, Robert D. Ebel, and Jane G. Gravelle, 404–406. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press


'Insulating' judges

The committee called for substantial changes in how municipal court judges end up on the bench.

The report urges the New Jersey State Bar Association to review all municipal court judge candidates, examining their "demeanor, legal experience, municipal court experience, trial experience and integrity" before reporting back to local leaders who approve the appointments.

The Bar Association already performs a similar review of state court judges appointed by the governor and approved by the senate.

The report also calls for increasing the terms of municipal court judges who are reappointed to the bench from three to five years, a move the committee said will "insulate the judge from political pressure" because it gives judges more time before facing town councils or committees for reappointment and "create a more experienced bench."

The first term for local court judges will remain at three years.

The move comes after former municipal court Judge Richard B. Thompson, who served in Monmouth County municipalities, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree falsifying records in 2018 after prosecutors alleged he converted about 4,000 motor vehicle ticket fines to more serious offenses when there was no legal basis to do so.

Authorities said the scheme by Thompson, whose conduct was highlighted in the Press investigations, was designed to ramp up revenue for the municipalities he worked for.


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