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Government can't solve budget battles? Let citizens do it.

To resolve the budget battles tearing apart Congress and state and local governments, politicians should look to a new model of citizen involvement: participatory budgeting.

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In recent weeks, Americans have watched budget battles tear apart Congress and state governments. This may be just the beginning.

As states and cities across the country confront staggering budget shortfalls, they face a double whammy: Voters are already disillusioned with government, and now elected officials have fewer resources to address citizens’ concerns. Recent polls show that Americans are as disgruntled as ever with Congress and both major parties. Meanwhile, the economic crisis has left federal, state, and city legislators short of funds for public goods like education and health care.

Faced with such daunting budget dilemmas, what are politicians to do? Two words: Look south! “Participatory budgeting” (PB), a model popular throughout Latin America, may offer a way to do more with less, and to reconnect citizens with government.

PB gives taxpayers a voice and a vote in how government spends public money. Unlike consultations, PB enables ordinary people to directly decide budget spending. Citizens receive training, identify and prioritize local needs, develop spending proposals, and vote on the proposed projects. Then the government carries out the top proposals, participants monitor progress, and the cycle begins anew.

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