March 20, 2012
People's Budget, St. Petersburg, Florida
If a city can be said to have common values and a common vision, then such values and vision would play out in the city's laws and in how they spend their money. Although it is not uncommon for citizens to involve themselves in passing new legislation, it's not often that they get down into the nuts and bolts of a city budget, especially for a larger city. But now, in St. Petersburg, Florida, a city of about 245,000, a coalition of local groups have come together to give city residents a greater say in their budget. The People's Budget Review kicked off their campaign with a press conference on the steps of City Hall. The assembled group included representatives from the Florida Public Service Union, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Agenda 2010, Council of Neighborhood Associations, and Awake The State. Like the Occupy Movement, this campaign is a return to a more direct form of democracy. So, it was no surprise to see participants from Occupy St. Pete in the crowd. The People's Budget Review is making use of online technology to give thousands of regular folks the chance to tell their city government how they wish to spend their tax dollars. Their sense of historic purpose rings out in their words. The goal is to gather 10,000 surveys from citizens of all stripes. So many times, citizens respond to their government when they are upset. They show up with complaints. Here is an opportunity to participate in government in a positive way. There will be on-the-street and door-to-door interactions to find 10,000 residents who want to share their opinions about the budget. After the press conference, I walked with a couple of folks canvassing on Central Avenue at lunchtime. They spoke with random people on the street, who were, by and large, all interested in the topic, with the exception of two tourists (beware of mega-street-noise) - The survey itself is more nuanced than you might think. For example, in addition to raising taxes, there is consideration for tapping into reserves. If you are a St. Petersburg resident, you can fill out the survey here.