A theoretical model of strategic budgetary choices in local government is developed and tested. The model assumes that expenditure decisions are a function of changes in environmental circumstances and the characteristics of local leaders. Environmental change is operationalized through measures of workload, munificence and regulatory controls. Leadership succession is defined as the turnover in managerial and political élites. These environmental and leadership variables are included in a multivariate statistical model of budgetary incrementalism. The model is tested on the spending decisions of 402 English local authorities from 1981 to 1996. The empirical results suggest that the extent of budgetary change is influenced strongly by environmental change but weakly by leadership succession. Furthermore, environmental constraints became tighter during the study period. The characteristics of public sector organizations that impose limits on the strategic choices of new leaders are identified.