Profile of Mr Thomas Skuzinski University of Michigan

Thomas Skuzinski

My research focuses on how attitudes and behaviors of individual actors shape governance decisions, especially with regard to the tension between local autonomy and regionalism in metropolitan areas in the United States. Currently, I am studying these dynamics in metropolitan counties in Michigan, including the Detroit and Grand Rapids MSAs. Rustbelt cities provide an excellent laboratory because of their high degree of fragmentation and strong home rule legal framework.

General research interests

Primary Fields: Regional governance; Local government
Secondary Fields: Land use policy; Housing policy
Core methods: Survey design and administration; Interviewing; Multivariate analysis; GIS analysis; Legal research (statutory and case law)

PhD/Postdoctoral Research Title

“Regionalism and rationality: Explaining attitudes among local government actors toward intermunicipal land use cooperation”

PhD Abstract

The empirical literature on local government decision-making often models elected officials as rational actors whose attitudes and behaviors can be reliably predicted by municipal level fiscal and demographic characteristics. However, descriptive case studies acknowledge that municipal policy is made in a contested political space among multiple actors, and that these actors often bring their own biases to the table. This study employs a theoretical framework in which three possible motivations drive the policy attitudes of local actors toward interlocal cooperation: maintaining local competitive advantage relative to neighboring municipalities; serving the interests of constituent residents pertaining to interlocal cooperation; and making decisions that align with personal dispositions regarding working as a group and/or maintaining structures that encourage social differentiation. Local elected officials should respond more favorably to cooperation if their municipalities are fiscally and demographically similar to neighbors; if indicators of municipal distress are high; if they perceive local public support for cooperation or perceive that they are insulated from reprisal by voters; if they have a personal affinity for working cooperatively (i.e., being a “communitarian” rather than an “individualist”); and if they have a disdain for structures that maintain social differentiation (i.e., being an “egalitarian” rather than a “hierarch”).

The framework is used to explain the attitude of local elected officials in Michigan toward interlocal land use planning and zoning under the state’s Joint Municipal Planning Act of 2003 (“JMPA”). The JMPA affords flexibility in municipalities' choice of the geographic scope (from a shared area to the full municipality) and the effect of an agreement on local planning and zoning (from the formation of an advisory commission with preservation of land use autonomy to a complete merger with dissolution of municipal land use bodies and regulations). The legislation, therefore, presents a unique opportunity for discerning elected officials’ attitudes toward a range of real-world regional governance options. Data on attitudes and individual level predictors were drawn from an original 2013-2014 survey of elected officials in 33 metropolitan counties. The data were analyzed together with secondary data on municipal and institutional predictors, using generalized ordinal logistic regression models and maximum likelihood estimation. Quantitative results were complemented by case studies of several municipalities in which JMPA agreements have been used for several years.

Findings from regression analyses offer little evidence that elected officials’ attitudes have a strong or significant relationship with municipal fiscal and demographic characteristics or with the level of homogeneity between a municipality and its adjacent neighbors on these dimensions. Perceiving residential support or that one has discretion to oppose the public interest are strongly and significantly associated with greater support for cooperation. Cultural dispositions also play a significant role: being a communitarian and an egalitarian are associated with favoring adopting a JMPA agreement, and being an egalitarian is also associated with supporting a JMPA agreement that is not merely advisory. Case studies reveal several institutional factors that mediate the translation of attitudes into actual JMPA adoption.