Saturday, May 20, 2023

How Should Metro Spend $10 Million?

by Rod Williams, May 20, 2023- Here is what the PBNashville website says about participatory budgeting: 

Participatory Budgeting is a chance for communities to decide together how government money is spent. You can submit an idea for a project or improvement through June 1, and then the community will vote for their favorites. After the votes are counted, Metro will implement the voted projects and our community ideas will come to life.

I am a sceptic. For one thing, I believe representative democracy is better than direct democracy. Representative democracy tampers the immediate and temporary passion of the masses. Representatives can look at the whole picture and consider cost and benefits, and alternatives between choices, and best practices. They can do the background study and hear from knowledgeable experts.  Sometimes what the mass of people want is simply not workable. While ever person who has watched it rain thinks they know how to fix flooding, a storm water management expert can explain why certain approaches are just unworkable. The same with homelessness, traffic, crime, education and almost everything the government does. Representative government, although often imperfect involves, or at least it should involve, gathering information, deliberation and persuasion and compromise. 

Okay, I may have overstated the case.  What is before us is not a choice between representative government and mob rule, but simply letting "the people" decide how to spend $10 million. Still, I do not like the concept.  I have served as a neighborhood organization chairman and as a board member of a neighborhood group and as councilman I worked with lots of different neighborhood groups.  When anything is decided by "the community," or "the people" it is not really the community or the people who decide but the activist in the community.  A lot of people who work forty hours a week, keep the house running, and help kids with homework do not have the time to study issues and attend meetings and organized their neighbors. Often a decision by "the community" or "the people" is not what the most people want but what people with more time and on their hands and more passion want. 

We have a process for funding projects, that involves a planning document called the Capital Improvements Budget.  It lists capital projects such as sidewalks, and schools, and road widening, and playgrounds and all kinds of other capital improvements.  Projects get in this document by recommendation from department heads, councilmembers and others who perceive needs. The projects are rated as to urgency and sources of funding and this list is then voted on by the Council following a public hearing. Then when the Council passes a budget, an item in the budget allocates a certain amount for capital spending and projects are funded from the list which has already been established. This is an orderly, thoughtful, impassionate process. I see no reason to supplement this process with a supposedly more democratic process. 

I went to the website to submit my idea, but the website would not let me. The deadline is not until June 1st. Maybe I will try again tomorrow.  I was going to submit the idea of putting the $10 million into additional funding for the Captial Improvements Budget. A list of submitted ideas is available but putting the $10 million into funding the Capital Improvements Budget is not one of them. 

To learn more about Participatory Budgeting, follow this link

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