Posted tagged ‘Participatory Budgeting’

Empowering Residents Through Participatory Budgeting

April 3, 2012

Kudos to four New York City Councilmembers who are letting residents of their districts have a say in how some discretionary funds are being spent. Joe Moore an Alderman from Chicago has also utilized Participatory Budgeting, which I discussed in a previous blog post.

An article in the New York Times highlights how Participatory Budgeting works. There is even a non-profit organization devoted to assisting communities with implementing Participatory Budgeting.

People are so cynical and distrusting about how government operates, so I support any process that encourages and engages the public in government decisions. One of the quotes highlighted in the Times article says it all: “So far, I love feeling like we have some say in what is done,” said Maggie Tobin, a participant from Kensington, Brooklyn, in Council District 39.

The ability to dole out government money is power that all elected officials relish and are reluctant to share. When I served as Chief of Staff to the Buffalo Common Council the big question that every councilmember wanted to know when the Mayor’s budget was released was how much discretionary funding were they going to have access to. Very little discussion or debate took place regarding budget priorities or policies proposed by the Mayor. The only fighting or negotiating that took place primarily involved how much money Councilmembers could control.

Turning the power of determining funding priorities over to citizens is a great way to encourage and increase public participation in government. Very few elected officials have been willing to empower community residents to have a direct say regarding budget decisions. I applaud the four New York City Councilmembers and Alderman Moore in Chicago for empowering community residents and hope that this idea spreads to other local governments.

What do you think about the concept of Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory Budgeting

April 1, 2010

Joe Moore an Alderman in Chicago is engaging in an innovative approach of empowering the residents of his district. Moore is allowing the residents of his district ages 16 and up regardless of party affiliation to determine how his discretionary fund of $1.3 million for capital projects should be spent.

Below is an op-ed piece written by Moore, where he explains his unique approach of  utilizing “Participatory Budgeting” to engage citizens in governmental decision making.

What do you think about “Participatory Budgeting”?

By Joe MooreMarch 31, 2010

From Chicago’s City Hall to the halls of Congress, important policy and spending decisions have been made for far too long by a handful of politicians behind closed doors working in concert with corporations and special interests. This old way of doing the public’s business has bred anger and mistrust of all levels of government.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that only 1 out of 5 Americans trusts government to do what is right most of the time. Citizens don’t believe their government listens to them and they don’t believe they have any power to affect public policy.

This anger and mistrust aren’t healthy for democracy. We need a new governance model, one that empowers people to make real decisions about policy and spending decisions.

As a Chicago alderman, I have embarked on an innovative alternative to the old style of decision-making. In an experiment in democracy, transparent governance and economic reform, I’m letting the residents of the 49th Ward in the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities decide how to spend my entire discretionary capital budget of more than $1.3 million.

Known as “participatory budgeting,” this form of democracy is being used worldwide, from Brazil to the United Kingdom and Canada. It lets the community decide how to spend part of a government budget, through a series of meetings and ultimately a final, binding vote.

Though I’m the first elected official in the U.S. to implement participatory budgeting, it’s not a whole lot different than the old New England town meetings in which residents would gather to vote directly on the spending decisions of their town.

Residents in my ward have met for the past year — developing a rule book for the process, gathering project ideas from their neighbors and researching and budgeting project ideas. These range from public art to street resurfacing and police cameras to bike paths. The residents then pitched their proposals to their neighbors at a series of neighborhood “assemblies” held throughout the ward.

The process will culminate in an election on April 10, in which all 49th Ward residents 16 and older, regardless of citizenship or voter registration status, are invited to gather at a local high school to vote for up to eight projects, one vote per project. This process is binding. The projects that win the most votes will be funded up to $1.3 million.

Though the process isn’t yet complete, it’s already yielding positive results. Hundreds of residents in the 49th Ward, many of whom had never before been involved in a civic activity, have become engaged in the participatory budgeting process. Rather than being passive observers of government they’ve become active participants in governing.

More important, they know they have the power to make decisions, and that their government is not just hearing them but actually following their mandate.

Empowering people to make real decisions openly and transparently is the first step toward restoring public trust in government.

Joe Moore is the alderman for Chicago’s 49th Ward.