December 24, 2016

Letting people help plan the budget

Yes Magazine - Participatory budgeting, or PB for short, is the idea that putting some of the power of the purse directly in the hands of citizens can pay powerful dividends. It makes sure that the city funds things residents really want, strengthens democracy, and builds trust between elected officials and the people they represent. A growing number of cities around the world—including Sevilla in Spain, Belo Horizonte in Brazil, and Newcastle in the United Kingdom—use PB for slices of their budget.

The handful of communities that use it in the United States tend to be major cities and often leave the decision of whether to deploy it up to individual council members. The result is that one part of the city might have PB; another won’t.

That’s why what’s happened in Greensboro is so important. It’s a mid-sized southern city of about 285,000 people, and it’s also doing the process citywide, across all five of its districts. Greensboro has a progressive streak—it’s where the sit-ins to end racial segregation began in 1960 at a Woolworth’s lunch counter—but no one’s going to mistake it for a liberal enclave. In other words, according to PB’s supporters, if the process can work here, it can work anywhere.

If the process can work here, it can work anywhere.

Here’s how PB operates in Greensboro [North Carolina]. The city council agreed to allocate $100,000 for expenditures in each district through participatory budgeting. The additional cost of implementation, approximately $200,000, was split between the city and local advocates, who received much of their funding from community foundations. The implementation costs include the expense of evaluating suggestions and for hiring the Participatory Budget Project, the New York nonprofit that is leading the PB movement in the United States, to oversee the engagement process.

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