by Eric Ginsburg
It sounds extreme to some people when they first hear about it, and to others even long after it’s been explained. But the concept of participatory budgeting, where residents vote directly on how to allocate a portion of their tax money, isn’t exactly a new concept. It’s worked, albeit in far different scenarios, in Chicago and New York City, as well as a pretty lengthy list of other cities around the world.
And now, it might be given a shot in Greensboro. After impaneling a subcommittee to look into the idea last year (which only came after a strong push from residents), city council will likely debate implementation soon. Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, who chaired the subcommittee, said that discussion might happen later this month.
“It’s an exciting process actually,” Johnson said. “I doubt that we could do what they’re asking, which is $250,000 per district. What we may be able to do is, if it fits council’s pleasure, is begin by having one project that everybody in the city can participate in listening to and voting on.”
A citywide approach with a smaller price tag may be a more feasible place to start than letting citizens vote on how to spend $1 million or more, but supporters understandably want the dollar amount to be high enough to show that the city takes the idea seriously and will allow legitimate input.
In cities that have tried participatory budgeting, elected officials have been floored by how out of touch they were with the priorities of constituents. The results may surprise us all, but especially given the participatory budgeting’s success rate in other locales, it behooves us to let the people decide. After all, it’s our money.