How can citizens directly influence city decisions and support their own programs?
The mayor is the chief executive officer and can draft/shape the city budget, which includes what programs are being implemented. The city council can then approve or reject the budget. In general, top-down management is most likely to be mismanaged, less oversight/accountability, expensive, and it’s costly to taxpayers.
We need to ask ourselves is our tax-dollars are being spent effectively?
One example of a poorly designed program is the College Bound Program, which creates a savings fund ($50 per year) for every baby born in Saint Paul till they reach college age. There are a multitude of reasons why this program is awful, it doesn’t address immediate poverty, the savings rate is low, parents are limited to a single fund, a new department of Financial Empowerment is created, and it’s a long-term financial liability, which will take decades for students to retrieve money. After first year enrollment, only 7% of parents ever signed into their account and only 8 families out of 3089 added additional money. If the decision-makers were the tax-paying citizens (or even city council), this program would never be given the green-light to go ahead. Furthermore, what are the performance measures needed to maintain this program?
Mayor Carter’s 2022 budget proposal includes a 6.9% increase in the tax levy and it wants to spend all of the American Rescue Plan’s (ARP) $166 million budget (multiple years) during an election year for his own project initiatives. In addition, the ARP funding excludes groups, such as businesses, whose livelihoods were harmed during the pandemic. Mayor Carter is packaging the ARP funding into the 2022 budget; can you imagine if the new mayor-elect inherits someone else’s major spending programs? I’ll be creating a petition and message soon around this.
My Approach: I advocate for giving citizens the power of the purse, via participatory budget. Citizens will have the ability to distribute a portion of their taxes however they see fit for different programs. These programs will be public proposals. The participatory budget promotes a bottom-up management, where the citizens are investing, building, leading their own initiatives, and holding themselves accountable. In addition, it supports EXISTING organizations instead of new initiatives.