The idea of participatory budgeting has entered the local conversation. What is it? Glad you asked:
The process was first developed in Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world. Most of these are at the city level, for the municipal budget. PB has also been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies.
Though each experience is different, most follow a similar basic process: residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates develop proposals based on these ideas, residents vote on proposals, and the government implements the top projects. For example, if community members identify recreation spaces as a priority, their delegates might develop a proposal for basketball court renovations. The residents would then vote on this and other proposals, and if they approve the basketball court, the city pays to renovate it. (The Participatory Budgeting Project)
Sounds like a way to get more people to participate in decisions rather than just complain after the fact. But how would this work on a local aldermanic level? We just need to look to Chicago’s 49th ward and Ald Joe Moore:
Over the past three years, I’ve asked my constituents–the residents of the 49th Ward–to decide how to spend $1 million in tax dollars.
Each alderman in Chicago gets over $1 million a year to allocate for various infrastructure improvements in his or her ward. This so-called “menu money” goes to resurface streets and alleys, repair sidewalks and curbs and gutters, put in new streetlights, and the like. I’ve also used the money to subsidize special infrastructure projects, such as the Harold Washington Playlot and the Willye White Community Center. This menu money is spent at the total discretion of each alderman.
Beginning with the 2009-10 budget cycle, I have ceded my decision-making authority to the residents of my ward through a process known as Participatory Budgeting, or “PB49,” in which all 49th Ward residents are eligible to vote directly on the infrastructure projects that are funded in our community.
The 49th Ward is the first political jurisdiction in the nation to adopt such an approach to public spending, and it’s been so well-received that I have pledged to make it a permanent fixture in the ward. Word of our success has spread. This year, three other Chicago aldermen have pledged to use participatory budgeting to decide how to spend their aldermanic menu money and other cities in the U.S., including New York City and Vallejo, California, are emulating our model. (source)
St. Louis, like Chicago, has funds available for each ward. These funds get allocated and spent each year with little to no input from the public. In some cases the money isn’t spent, the alderman decides to hoard the funds instead.
So what do you think, do you support this idea in St. Louis? The poll is in the right sidebar.
– Steve Patterson