June 30, 2017
Hollie Russon Gilman's book, Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America, was favorably reviewed in the Spring 2017 issue of Political Science Quarterly.
The typical focus on budgeting has been the involvement of technical aspects of taxing and spending priorities by public officials. Yet as city fiscal stress has become more prominent, the public acceptance of the provisioning of an optimal threshold of city services has become a critical component of the local budgetary process. It is from this perspective that Hollie Russon Gilman offers a refreshing alternative to most budgetary texts. City budgets are built around values in which certain priorities are articulated and manifested by the details of dollar allocations. Accordingly, Gilman asserts that rather than presume that city officials actually reflect their constituents’ interests, we ought to utilize newer modes of citizen participation in the budgeting process to articulate these priorities. In the past, most citizen preferences for collectively consumed public services were determined by citizens’ willingness-to-pay surveys, in which citizen choices were made with actual budget constraints. Budget choices were determined by service needs derived from technical experts, a very top-down approach. Utilizing case studies from three cities (New York, Boston, and Chicago), Gilman suggests that a newer, innovative approach is the participatory budgeting model of civic engagement.