Public Policy Lab: Financial Challenges Facing U.S. Cities

Financial Challenges Facing U.S. Cities gives students the opportunity to research local government finance issues and present their findings to city officials.

Cities in the United States are tasked with providing a great variety of services to citizens, including public safety, education, and the construction and maintenance of infrastructure. Across the country, governments at the local level spent more than $2.1 trillion and had nearly $2.1 trillion in debt outstanding in 2020 according to the US Census.

In this course, participants will focus on three different cities across the U.S. to research one of three local government finance issues: infrastructure, debts and pensions, and tax incentives and economic development. Teams will assess the efficacy of existing local policies and propose data-driven and evidence-based recommendations for new policy. Students will have the opportunity to engage with city officials and subject matter experts to aid in the preparation of reports that will be presented to local governments.

Project Examples

  • Analyze public infrastructure needs, evaluate the benefits of infrastructure investment, and assess the financing mix for infrastructure projects.
  • Investigate the extent to which cities offer targeted tax breaks to companies to incentivize them to locate in a city and assess the efficacy of incentives.
  • Assess the mix of public borrowing in cities and evaluate the investment strategies and funding levels of pension and retiree health promises to public employees.


The Ormond Family Professor of Finance

Public Policy Lab: Financial Challenges Facing US Cities (ALP 307) is available to the following students:

  • Students who have a strong interest in data-driven, evidence-based public policy and policy analysis.
  • MBA and all MSx students at Stanford GSB