In the 2012 legislative session, the state of Vermont amended its statutes declaring that “the state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity”. Vermont is the first U.S. state to define the purpose of its budget in terms of human rights principles. The statute also states that the “administration will develop a process for public participation in the development of budget goals, as well as general prioritization and evaluation of spending and revenue initiatives.”
These new statutory provisions are the result of intense advocacy by the People’s Budget Campaign, which is part of the Put People First movement, spearheaded by the Vermont Workers’ Center. To ensure the meaningful implementation of the new requirement for public participation, the People’s Budget Campaign developed a detailed proposal for participation in budgeting, guided by a set of principles and informed by research on participatory budgeting conducted in collaboration with NESRI.
Meaningful public participation in policymaking is both a basic human right in itself and essential to advancing other human rights, including those relating to people’s fundamental needs. Participation is a tool for addressing the democratic deficit and for increasing people’s economic well-being. Any participatory process must itself be guided by the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and by the principles of universality, equity, transparency, accountability and participation, which serve to guide the conduct of the process and the achievement of outcomes.
The proposal by the Peoples’ Budget Campaign presents a set of principles, structures and mechanisms to assist the Vermont Administration in designing a process for meaningful public participation in state budget and revenue decisions. Participatory mechanisms are intended to complement and improve rather than to replace the mechanisms of representative government that currently determine state-level budget and revenue decisions. Guided by lessons learned from participatory practices across the world, the Campaign’s proposal identifies structures and tools that can be useful in establishing a meaningful process of public participation in Vermont.