Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)


Public Policy and Administration

Committee Chairperson

Mark W. Davis, Ph.D., MPA

Committee Member

Michelle Wade, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ebru Isgin, Ph.D.


Local and state laws require municipal budgeting before elected officials in a public setting. But preceding this, many decisions unfold privately, where department heads and executives compete over proposals to legislators about who gets what of scarce resources. This dissertation explores this private aspect of public budgeting, hypothesizing that greater assertiveness receives deeper cuts but more significant budget growth. In contrast, proposal support minimizes budget cuts because legislators adopt what executives recommend. This dissertation demonstrates that county budgeting in California rural counties shows the same dynamics as previous federal and state budgeting studies. Those dynamics include using non-technical gameplay strategies as bargaining tactics to win their fair share of scarce resources.

Using budget data from 460 general fund departments in 38 rural counties, bivariate correlations evaluated relationships between department assertiveness, executive support, and whether legislatures adopted administrative recommendations. Secondarily, this dissertation used a survey instrument assessing the effect of four gameplay patterns (devious, economic, time, and incremental) with changes in department fiscal resources.

Results confirm the most assertive departments suffered the deepest cuts but received a more significant share of scarce resources than less assertive units. On the other hand, the budget gameplay association proved weak, with no correlation, although explaining the rationale behind their request was the highest-rated strategy. Nonetheless, research results show the executive is the most influential player in allocating scarce resources because the correlation between recommended budgets and adoption was strong. As such, obtaining support from administrators is the wisest strategy.