Buffalo Councilmembers Michael LoCurto and David Rivera have introduced a Resolution seeking to explore the possibility of utilizing a process called Participatory Budgeting in the City of Buffalo.
Participatory Budgeting allows citizens to decide how a municipalities budget funds are spent. Participatory budgeting involves several steps:
1) Community members identify spending priorities and select budget delegates
2) Budget delegates develop specific spending proposals, with help from experts
3) Community members vote on which proposals to fund
4) The city or institution implements the top proposals
First implemented in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, Participatory Budgeting has recently been done in Chicago and New York City. In Chicago and New York, Councilmembers have put the discretionary funds they receive into the control of community residents who determine how such funds should be spent. TheToronto Community Housing agency has allowed public housing tenants to vote and determine how 20% of the agency’s capital funds are spent ($1.8 million dollars).
You can view the Buffalo Council Resolution, which appears on page 251 of themeeting agenda.
You can learn more about Participatory Budgeting here.
What do you think about giving citizens the ability to vote on how a portion of their tax dollars are spent?
Citizen based participatory budgeting has a great deal of potential but needs safeguards. Everyone enjoys spending someone elses money. Making decisions on how to spend $10 or $20 million is fun and exciting if you are not the one paying the bills. Why not add in some reality by giving all of the members of the community the opportunity to simply divide up the money and keep it for themselves? It then becomes “their” money rather than someone elses and they now have a great deal more skin in the game. Given a community of 10,000 with an allocation of $10 million, each individual would be allocated $1000 they could either keep for themselves or contribute towards community projects. Advocates of the various projects would now be in a position of explaining not just why project A is more deserving than project B but why it is also more deserving than any personal allocation the citizen might consider making with “their” $1000. If the projects are truly worth the investment, advocates should be able to convince individuals in the community to allocate at least some of their $1000 towards funding them. If the individuals in the community would rather keep their $1000, than maybe the project was not as worthwhile as the advocates beleived. Now that would be true participatory budgeting.