The People’s Budget Bill: In Times of Austerity, a Tool for Rights-Based Change


Vermont’s Put People First Campaign is organizing communities for a proactive solution to budget cuts and health care financing reform.

Recalling that the real purpose of budget and revenue policies is to meet people’s fundamental needs, the Campaign has developed, in partnership with NESRI, a bill for an equitable, rights-based state budget in Vermont.

The bill’s language serves as a vehicle for shifting the defensive discourse on budget cuts to a dialogue about government obligations to meet human needs and realize human rights. Together with the People’s Budget Framework, which outlines a system for measuring progress in meeting needs, the bill can be used as a tool in budget and revenue debates beyond Vermont.

A People’s Budget would lead to a paradigm shift in the way spending and revenue policies are developed. The key requirements of a People’s Budget are as follows:

  • The purpose of the budget must be to meet everyone’s fundamental needs.
  • The state must use human rights principles as the basis of budget and revenue proposals.
  • The state must develop an indicator system, based on human rights principles, that accurately assesses needs, as well as the efficacy of budget allocations in meeting those needs.
  • The budget process must be guided by binding accountability measures, including an indicator system.
  • The state must establish a process for meaningful public participation in the development of budget and revenue policies.
  • Revenue policy must be designed to fully fund a needs-based budget; in other words, necessary resources must be raised to meet people’s needs.

Members of the Put People First: the People’s Budget Campaign are now in the process of meeting with their legislators, who have expressed some interest in making the state budget accountable to meeting human needs and realizing human rights. But Vermonters are under no illusion: systemic change of this magnitude won’t happen overnight and requires growing the power of the people.

Hundreds of Vermonters contributed to a community needs assessment, thousands signed a petition for the People’s Budget at the beginning of this legislative session, hundreds testified to legislators at the annual state budget hearings, and many more are expected to congregate at the statehouse on May 1st for the Vermont Workers’ Center’s annual May Day rally, which usually marks the end of the legislative session. They are laying the foundation for a strong 2013 legislative session now.