The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
This paper discusses how decentralized countries can achieve sound fiscal relations between the central government and lower government levels. The concepts of 'vertical gap' and 'vertical balance' provide an analytical framework for identifying and addressing key challenges. These concepts can help policymakers ensure that the financing of subnational governments (composed of transfers received from the center, own revenues, and borrowing) is both efficient and adequate given the allocation of spending responsibilities. More generally, the paper offers some perspectives about the optimal design of decentralization systems by examining the sequencing and economic principles underlying revenue and expenditure assignments, the use of transfers, and borrowing.