Helping Government Spend Your Money

When paying property taxes, how many property owners have wondered “I wish I could tell the city/county/township how I want this money spent”?  

Now there is a way — participatory budgeting. First tried in 1989 in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, with participatory budgeting ordinary citizens have a say in how public money is allocated.

As usual, the devil is in the details. Not every line item in a municipal budget can be eligible for public discussion, and there must be a rigid procedure for how items are debated and adopted. Then all the approved items must be studied for feasibility. At the end of the process, a designated government official needs to approve the feasible projects within the established budgetary constraints.

Perhaps the best example of how participatory budgeting works is Cascais, Portugal. Each year, the city government allows citizens to propose, debate, and vote on projects that the public budget will fund. Winning projects receive up to three hundred and fifty thousand euros, and the city guarantees it will follow through within three years. For a detailed explanation of their procedure, see “How to Spend Your City’s Money” by Rick Romeo (

Would participatory budgeting work with your local government? A good place to start is the Participatory Budgeting Project, “a nonprofit organization that empowers people to decide together how to spend public money, primarily in the US and Canada.” Their website is

It’s an idea worth investigating. After all, communities are stronger when everyone can actively participate.

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