Land grant premiums and land tax revenues have become two major sources of fiscal revenue for city governments in China. This type of fiscal revenue strategy for city governments is generally referred to as “land finance”, and it has drawn increasing research attention in recent years. This paper explores the institutional causes of the “land finance” strategy of city governments in China. We first analyze the institutionalfoundation of “landfinance” (including China’s urban land use systemand land expropriation system). We then propose two hypotheses about the institutional causes of “land finance”. The first hypothesis is that the current system of fiscal decentralization is a major reason city governments choose the “land finance” fiscal strategy. The second hypothesis is that under the current personnel control system, which uses local economic performance as the most important indicator for evaluating local government officials, the competition between city governments to promote local economic growth is another major reason city governments choose the “land finance” fiscal strategy. We test the hypotheses by estimating econometric models using data for 31 provincial-level regions for the period 1999–2008. The empirical results suggest that fiscal decentralization and competition between city governments to promote economic growth are two major causes of “land finance”.
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