California’s recent budget debacle is not an isolated case. An opinion piece entitled "Budgets by the People, for the People" by Chris Elmendorf and Ethan J. Leib in The New York Times reports that since 2002, 14 States in the U.S. have experienced delays in budget approval. They also suggest a solution. The key to resolving budget deadlocks is citizen participation.
Here’s what they propose.
A representative sample of the population, a “citizens’ assembly”, is convened. The executive and major parties in the legislative branch submit their own versions of the budget. The assembly is provided expert policy and technical advice on the competing versions. The citizens’ assembly votes by secret ballot. The result is binding and the winning version becomes law.
The authors claim that this has been done successfully in other countries. We are happy to note that they cite examples CommGAP has promoted for some time now. A case study of the Deliberative Poll in Zeguo Township in China, where citizens prioritized infrastructure projects that were to be funded by the local government, was published in Governance Reform Under Real-World Conditions. Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where citizens have had a say in municipal budget priorities since 1989, was featured in a CommGAP global learning event held in Paris in late 2007. Worthy of note is how the Times columnists suggest that California and other areas of the United States have much to learn in terms of citizen participation and government accountability from successful experiences from middle-income countries.
The idea that the most powerful country on the planet can learn from politically-binding representative mechanisms piloted in the developing world may seem surprising. I find it hopeful. It transforms Rudyard Kipling’s proverbial “burden” from one of teaching to one of learning.
Photo credit: Flickr user Takacsi75