|Democracy without training wheels|
“Now that we have demonstrated what we can demonstrate with the original version of the program, and we always referred to it as a `growing program,’ it is time to take the baby into the big time,” said Mr. Lander. “We are ready to spend some real money and make the kind of commitment that will get real attention.”
The current form of Participatory Budgeting program that is now operating was introduced in New York City for the 2012 budget year cycle and was announced in September of 2011 by Mr. Lander, who had pushed for it as an effort to “increase people's faith” in how the government is spending the people’s money. The New York Times describing the PB “experiment” that began that year reported that “New Yorkers jumped into the trenches and dirtied their hands with democracy.”
|Councilman Stephen T. Levin praises Participatory Budgeting, what it is and what it is to become- It's an "antidote" to being distracted by the malfeasance of elected officials|
|Councilman Brad Lander- He brought us Participatory Budgeting and now brings us Participatory Budgeting 2.0 -“Meta-Participatory Budgeting”|
Heretofore, the PB program has been used to allocate capital expenditures, a portion of the available councilmatic discretionary funds that each of the City Council members receive annually. Council members joining in the program have made available $1 million apiece each year for a process where members of the public could redirect their energy to identify and vote on projects they valued. Councilman Lander recently made even more than that available, an extra $.5 million in his district for a total of $1.5 million. In all, the public that engaged was recently allowed to vote on the about $35 million in expenditures across those districts running the program.
It was noted by Noticing New York that the PB amounts available are so very small that they are not even a fraction of the amount that it has been said would be necessary to address repairs now withheld from some of the public’s libraries, like air conditioning repairs for the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library. Those needed repairs are being cited as reason to sell off the libraries. “Have the public vote to repair the libraries we want to sell and turn into real estate deals?” asked Mr. Lander. “That would be counterproductive. There is a reason we have made the amount for stated necessary repairs to libraries we want to sell such high figures.”
Mr. Lander said that people who complained that the amount of funds heretofore channeled through the program are relatively small don’t understand that the purpose of the program is to “demonstrate that government can be good.” “Having done that,” he said, “we can now open the program up in new ways to set up the expenditure of more funds.”
Steve Levin said this was exactly the case, that the program was to offer “a positive experience for folks” and that it meant that, “people have faith, through this process they know, at the very least, where that funding [the PB funding] is going.”
Lander said that the purpose of the first phase of the program was this restoration of “faith in government” and also for members of the public to “enhance skills and learn how to be active citizens.” He said that now that the first phase had succeeded it was time to proceed to phase two: “We are going to take the training wheels off Democracy,” he said, “and it means spending real money as well.”
Asked what kind of financial commitments the real money of “Participatory Budgeting 2.0- Meta-Participatory Budgeting” involved, Mr, Lander explained that the commitment of financial resources was so extensive as to be essentially open-ended. “We are talking about, as eligible, virtually all of the online scheduled capital budget items for the city, but not just that, because there are also commitments that have substantial value in terms of deployment of resources valuable to the public like zoning policies and real estate variances and regulatory overrides that don’t show up as line items in the city’s official budget. All of these are up for grabs as part of the Meta-participation program. The more resources we can direct through it the better.”
The first action to get PB 2.0 rolling will be the appointment of an informal and rotating board of advisors, essentially a panel, to judge, consider or reject proposals that may possibly come from the public interested in “reconnecting with government” and wanting to “take control over their own public resources and steer a path.”
According to Mr. Lander, the efficiency of the program structure that is being rolled out is that whatever the panel can be convinced by the public is a good idea has a very high probability of being effected with very significant commitments of public funds backing them. Not only is the likelihood of effectuation enhanced, the process is much more direct than relying on council members as conduit decision makers. In addition, whereas government has always been subject to lots of “procurement rules, red tape and regulations that need to be in place,” Mr. Lander said these approvals would provide the sort of “done deal” imprimatur that would help assure they move through to completion.
Council Member Levin said that it was exciting to see the PB program “blossom in this way” furnishing the “ramped up growth” and “innovative ways of expanding the program beyond City Council capital budget expenditures that were promised.” He said the structures being formalized and now explicitly laid out this way ought to “give people more faith in the transparency of government, in the fairness of government, that there is some responsiveness and accountability.”
The names of those on the informal panel will not be known since it is considered that they will have a freer hand to vote their conscience, making the inevitably hard decisions that will confront them, if their privacy is protected. Both Lander and Levin agreed that members of the public wishing to steer a path while not knowing who in actuality would be considering their proposals could help surmount their frustration by considering themselves as addressing the same decision makers as have always had ultimate say about the city’s affairs.
Lander said that whatever is lost in terms of transparency by not publicly identifying these decision makers is more than made up for by bequeathing those members of the public engaging through the program “the much more real and actual experience of the way Democracy operates that they ought to be asking for. Those who engage thereby become a much more educated platform of voters than they would otherwise be.”
Mr. Lander said that one of the main purposes of the Participatory Budgeting program when it was introduced was to “get people to start asking questions about their government” and “with more things left appropriately concealed there are more questions to ask.”
Councilman Lander said that his press release announcing the launch of Participatory Budgeting 2.0 -“Meta-Participatory Budgeting” was timed so that the first year of its actual implementation one year hence could also be the same date: April 1st.
|Real Real Money, Real Real Power|