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City leaders praise participatory budgeting, report says

A participatory budgeting exercise in New York City. (Daniel Latorre/flickr/cc)

Is it wise to let residents choose how their municipalities spend public dollars?

A new report concludes that elected officials are generally pleased with the results. Why Let the People Decide? Elected Officials on Participatory Budgeting, was published last month by Public Agenda, a non-profit that seeks to improve public engagement.

Under participatory budgeting, residents vote to decide how a city should spend part of its budget by choosing which projects to fund. In the U. S., 47 cities or jurisdictions have embraced this framework, the report says. Mayors and other city leaders cited the ability to be more responsive to community needs and improved civic engagement among the upsides. They also shared that ceding some authority to everyday citizens boosted their political prospects.

In addition, they pointed to increased participation from marginalized groups, such as minorities and the poor, and greater trust in public institutions. But there also were complaints about challenges, notably staffing, time and operational costs.

The report is based on anonymous interviews that Public Agenda conducted with 43 elected local officials across the U. S. Twenty-eight offer participatory budgeting. The remaining 15 said they already are “attuned” to constituent needs, according to the report. 

Learn more about participatory budgeting here. 

[Read: How Boston gives youth control over part of the city budget]

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