A combination of Coins, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Tax Credits photostream and Ballot box, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from FutUndBeidlNo’s photostream

Stewardship of taxpayer dollars, provision of basic services, and investment in neighborhoods are some of the most important financial responsibilities of city government. Yet the processes by which your tax dollars are spent are often top-down and offer little or no chance for public participation aside from electing a Mayor and City Council representatives. To truly open local government up to the people, we need to give people real decision-making power over real money.

1. Community-Based Budgeting

Communities across the world have been embracing community-based budgeting as a way to get citizens more involved in their neighborhoods and give them more say in their government. From Brazil to Chicago, citizen involvement in budgeting has shown powerful results.

Pittsburgh has an opportunity to be the first city in Pennsylvania to open up its budget to input from taxpayers and give you a voice in what gets done in your neighborhood.

2. How it Works

Pittsburgh could set aside several million dollars of our capital budget every year and let you decide how to spend it. With the help of good government organizations and community organizations we could hold brainstorming sessions throughout the city to find out what investments are most needed in your communities. Once the topics are chosen, we would work together to create concrete proposals to address them. For example, if parks and playgrounds emerged as a common desire across the city we would create a specific plan to build new parks in key neighborhoods. We would then open up these proposals for a vote by all city residents. The projects that get the most votes would be funded and included in the city’s capital budget.

In other words, you get to tell us exactly how you want your tax dollars spent.

3. Building a Stronger Civic Community

Not only does community-based budgeting provide an opportunity to direct taxpayer money exactly where residents want it, it also creates an incredible educational opportunity about how local government works and how people can become more involved in steering it. When communities come together to decide how their money will be spent it creates new bonds and new lines of communication that can bring people together. It also creates new relationships with city employees and elected officials that can lead to productive partnerships in the future.