Does local democracy help or hinder the solution of collective action problems? We study this question in the context of public spending on health-related urban amenities in a panel of 75 municipal boroughs in England and Wales in 1868, 1871 and 1886. We .nd evidence of a U-shaped relationship between spending on urban amenities and the extension of the local voting franchise. We argue that this retrenchment e¤ect arose because middle class taxpayers were unwilling to pay the cost of poor sanitation and the urban elites, elected on a narrow franchise, were instrumental for sanitary improvements. Our model of taxpayer democracy suggests that the retrenchment e¤ect is related to forced enfranchisement of the middle class through nation-wide reforms.