The Distribution of Governmental Functions

Changes in the number and importance of the services performed by the state and local governments during this period were of three sorts. Old functions of both state and local governments were elaborated and made more efficient. New types of service were devised, which were sometimes added to the functions of the state and sometimes to those of the localities. Finally, certain duties were transferred from the local to the state government.

A contemporary account of the functions of local governments, published in 1885, points out that while the services performed by the localities were few and simple they were, on the other hand, relatively onerous. To the townships were committed the care of roads and bridges, the maintenance of schools, and the support of the poor. *1 But, under certain conditions, the county was obliged to assist the townships in building bridges, *2 and in a few cases the county and not the township assumed the burden of poor relief. Moreover, the state shared with the localities (township or county) the burden of caring for indigent defectives. *3

1 James, E. J. The Public Economy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Wharton School Annals of Political Science, No. 1. (1885), p. 58. 2 Idem, p. 59. 3 Ibid.

The counties, at this time, were charged with the support of the courts, except that the state paid the salaries of all judges learned in the law but apparently not the salaries of lay judges, nor of police magistrates. The cost of maintaining prisons and workhouses for the detention of persons convicted of minor offenses was also a county or municipal charge. In addition, each county was required to pay the expense of maintaining all criminals committed to the state penitentiaries from within its borders. The state paid only the overhead expense of maintaining the prisons. Other functions of the county government were the assessment and collection of local taxes and of certain state taxes, and the supervision of general and local elections. It should also be noted that the state required the localities to bear the expense of maintaining their indigent insane in the state hospitals. *4

In 1885, therefore, the greater part of the most burdensome functions of government was borne by the localities. Professor James, in the article cited, pointed out that the total state expenditure for general purposes was, in 1882, about $5,000,000, *5 while in the same year the counties levied a tax of $15,000,000 and the school districts one of $6,000,000. These figures did not include township levies for purposes other than the support of the schools. Roughly estimated, total local expenditures must have amounted to more than $25,000,000. *6

The principal financial obligations of the state at this time arose from its performance of the following functions: (1) the establishment and maintenance of prisons and asylums; (2) the maintenance of the general governmental functions performed by the governor, the legislature, the auditor general, etc.; (3) the administration of justice; (4) the military.

Since 1885 the tendency has been for the state to take over certain services performed by the localities. Thus the recent reports of the Auditor General show large expenditures for state hospitals for injured miners, for state dispensaries and sanitoria, for uniform primary elections, for the state police system, and for the construction and maintenance of state highways. *7 In addition to these important charges the state has undertaken a number of minor services. *8 Apparently the localities have thus been relieved of a part of the services which they regularly performed in 1885. But it must not be inferred that the real burden of local government was less in 1916 than in 1885; for the services which the state has taken over are mostly developments of the last thirty years. Furthermore, such services as education, road building and maintenance, sanitation, charitable relief, recreation, and police have undergone tremendous elaboration within the same period, and the state has by no means taken on the responsibility for all these additions.

4 James, E. J. The Public Economy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Wharton School Annals of Political Science, No. 1, (1885), p. 60.

5 Idem, p. 67.

6 Idem, pp. 67-68. It is not clear whether the writer intended to include in this estimate expenditures of the cities and the boroughs.

7 This list is intended to include only those services which the state administers directly. The uniform primaries are jointly administered by state and locality, hence they are partly state and partly local, but no separation can, of course, be made.

8 Compare the "Summary of Payments," in the Reports of the Auditors General for the years 1885 and 1916.