Show me your spending, and I’ll show you your priorities – this goes for your personal budget as well as our public ones.

Over the last 40 years, increased funding to policing has meant disproportionately more Black and brown people are targeted for petty crimes, caught up in criminal legal systems, and then more money is “needed” for prisons and carceral projects [read The New Jim Crow if you want to learn all about this], and less and less funding is allocated to schools, social programs, safety nets etc. Budgets have caps, after all.

But, is this the way it has to be? 

The current state of city budgets

Between paying for COVID-19 costs and anticipating reduced funding due to the same (lots of cities lost tourist and tax base revenue), cities are tasked with rebuilding budgets with new priorities and less money to work with. Sound familiar to any of you?

Local budgets are majorly important because they have a lot of impact on our everyday life — and if you contribute to funding that budget, or have to live under it’s choices, you should have say in it’s priorities. 

What this means is an opportunity to build budgets, and make reduced spending decisions, that better reflect the cities and towns we WANT. What if our public wealth went to creating a more awesome and just society, with more opportunity to grow, heal, and rebuild?

The Movement for Black Lives’ platform has long called for divestment from policing and to redirect those resources into community social programs – check out their toolkit here.  

Other cities are finding themselves with loud advocates for defunding police, which in the current economics cities are working in tends to mean “if you’re going to cut 15% from school budgets you better be about to cut the same from the cops.”

Maui City Council just passed legislation “committing to a feminist economic recovery plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” centering people over profits if you can imagine the audacity. The plan was put together through a community process, and you can see it here:

Open City Budgeting & Feminist Regenerative Economics

What Maui has done is groundbreaking. Some other municipalities are making this an active opportunity to listen more to constituents and create participatory processes — check out this list from the Open Government Partnership

For all you city planning / municipal budget readers, I recommend checking out the work that Participatory Budgeting is up to – their process for contributing to City budgets has been tested worldwide for a few decades and includes people often excluded from public voice like youth and immigrants, centers folks of color and poor/working class folks, and increases voting turnout by 7%!

Attending long City Council budget subcommittee review and input meetings aren’t the stuff of drama that most of us imagine when we think about changing the world — but they’re ground zero of these hugely important decisions.

What should public money fund?