Around the United States and here in Chicago, city leaders are increasingly asking residents for suggestions about budget spending. Here in the 49th Ward, we’re going one step further. Through a novel experiment in democracy, I’m not just asking for your opinion–I’m asking you to make real decisions about how we spend our money.
Each alderman in Chicago receives slightly over $1.3 million a year to spend at their discretion on various capital improvements in their wards. This so-called “menu money” goes for neighborhood improvement projects, such as resurfacing streets and alleys; repairing sidewalks, curbs and gutters; installing new streetlights; and other infrastructure needs.
Aldermen also use their menu money to subsidize special infrastructure projects, such as rebuilding playgrounds and subsidizing the construction of new public buildings. So long as the funds are used for capital improvements, aldermen are accorded wide discretion on how to allocate their budget.
Eight years ago, I decided to adopt a different approach. Rather than me determining how to spend the money, I turned that power over to the residents of my ward. Beginning in 2009 and continuing every year since then, I allocate $1 million of my $1.3 million dollar budget to a democratic process known as Participatory Budgeting, or “PB49,” in which community residents decide by popular vote how to spend the Ward’s infrastructure budget.
The 49th Ward was the first political jurisdiction in the nation to adopt participatory budgeting as an approach to public spending, and it’s been so well-received that I pledged to make it a permanent fixture in the ward.
Word of our success has spread. This year, seven Chicago aldermen used participatory budgeting to decide how to spend their aldermanic menu money, and other cities in the U.S., including Boston, New York City, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Vallejo, California, are emulating the 49th Ward’s participatory budgeting model.
What’s happening now in PB?
As of April 1, community representatives, who helped develop projects to appear on the PB ballot, have presented those projects at three Project Expos.
We have developed the ballot for this year’s vote. Early voting will start on Saturday, April 22, during my annual Spring Clean-Up. View the Sample Ballot for 2017 projects. You also can also view the presentations about the projects shown at Project Expos.
There will be plenty of opportunities to vote early before the final Community Voting Day, Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, 7212 N. Clark St. Check my emails for early voting sites.