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The sticky cost phenomenon at the local government level: empirical evidence from Greece

Sandra Cohen, Sotirios Karatzimas and Vassilios-Christos Naoum

Journal of Applied Accounting Research, 2017, vol. 18, issue 4, 445-463

Abstract: Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to explore the asymmetric cost behaviour in Greek local governments. More precisely, it investigates whether municipality costs show stickiness or anti-stickiness behaviour after increases or decreases in the stream of their revenues. Design/methodology/approach - The Anderson Findings - The empirical evidence suggests that local government managers adjust resources related to administrative services faster when revenues decrease than when they rise (anti-stickiness cost behaviour). On the contrary, they adjust costs of service provision which are associated with core activities asymmetrically; more quickly for upward than for downward activity changes (cost stickiness behaviour). Research limitations/implications - While prior studies examine the sticky cost phenomenon in the private sector, this study explores this phenomenon in the public sector through a data sample of municipalities. Local governments constitute an appealing and unique setting for the examination of asymmetric cost behaviour due to the existence of a strong political influence, which appears to affect rational economic decision making, and their non-profit character, which prevents them from acting in a business-like manner. Practical implications - Understanding how cost stickiness works inside local understanding how cost stickiness works inside local governments, could lead to an understanding of its implications in periods of cutback measures. Decreases in municipalities’ subsidies and grants as a result of cutbacks in central government expenditures should not be expected to automatically result in symmetric savings in expenditures as corresponding increases in expenditures when revenues used to grow. At the same time, it might be difficult to achieve balanced budgets in municipalities when there is a considerable decrease in revenues, without having to make considerable adjustments to the input values, the output and the mix of services offered by them. Originality/value - This study contributes to the accounting literature by expanding the understanding of how deliberate decisions influence the asymmetric cost behaviour in local governments, to different cost categories (administrative expenses and cost of service provision) and different revenue categories (grants, tax revenues and revenues from sales of goods and services).

Keywords: Greece; Public sector; Local governments; Cost behaviour; Sticky cost phenomenon (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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