Introduction Of City Charter Ballot Petition That Will Mandate Citizen Participation In Budget Making


A coalition of education, housing, environmental, labor, and immigrant rights activists have come together in Baltimore to submit an amendment to the City Charter that will increase public participation in City Budgeting. NESRI has worked with the coalition, provided our experience relative to the “People’s Budget” campaign in Vermont, drafted the Charter amendment, and submitted it on behalf of the coalition.

The Ballot Charter amendment will require the City Council to develop a mechanism through which citizens can express their preferences on budget decisions. “Participatory” budgeting is such a mechanism, and has been adopted in over 800 cities worldwide, in various forms.

“A Charter amendment, designed to be permanent, must afford colloquial terms,” said Peter Sabonis, NESRI’s Director of Legal Strategies.  “So we needed another phrase for ‘participatory budgeting,’ and had to structure the language so as to not infringe upon the Council’s exclusive power to legislate. I’m confident that we threaded that needle.”

If at least 10,000 registered voters sign the charter amendment petition this summer, it will be put to voters in November.  The amendment also make the budget more responsive to public input by allowing council representatives, closer to the people, to add or increase budget items proposed by the Mayor. The City Council has never had this power in Baltimore’s history.

In December, a City Planning Department report revealed the City’s capital budget (construction) projects over the last 10 years favored white and wealthier neighborhoods over black and poor communities. “Given the history of Budgeting in Baltimore, equity demands more public participation,” said Sabonis.