Thursday, April 1, 2010

Budget Democracy?

"I'm letting the residents of the 49th Ward in the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities decide how to spend my entire discretionary capital budget of $1.3 million.

Joe Moore, "49th Ward Spending is out in the open," Chicago Tribune, March 31, 2010.

This little experiment in "participatory budgeting" seems like a good thing. Like a true pol, Moore notes that "I'm the first elected official in the U.S. to implment participatory budgeting." Then he goes on to compare this approach to New England town meetings.

There have been other experiments in neighborhood capital budgeting -- so I think Joe maybe exaggerating a bit. Minneapolis tried something like this some years ago with real capital budget dollars. But this is a good idea -- and the community process developed will no doubt lead to other bigger things.

"On the other hand, he’s [Joe Moore] become a fairly reliable vote for the mayor’s other budgetary schemes—don’t even get me started about his support of the Devon-Sheridan TIF, in which roughly $50 million in property taxes were turned over to Loyola University."

Ben Joravsky, "Alderman Joe Moore, whipping boy for the 49th," The Reader, February 5, 2009.

You always have to start somewhere, and there is a lot of merit to starting small about things under your control, but one has to ask about the ambition of Moore's participatory budgeting. What does he put on the table next for citizen voting? Is $1.3 million enough?

We'll see. I do wonder about any unintended downsides from participatory budgeting with these funds, in this way.

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