What is a People’s Budget?

Flipping the Power Structure

The People’s Budget is a form of participatory budgeting that puts residents in charge of how the city spends its money. The United Nations considers participatory budgeting a democratic “best practice” and the New York Times called it “revolutionary civics in action.”

Our People’s Budget Initiative creates the largest model in the United States, giving residents control over the entire $1.65 billion Oakland budget as well as creating 105 neighborhood assemblies all across town. Neighborhood assemblies are a place for residents to learn about city programs, share collective wisdom, and ultimately turn ideas into reality.

Participatory Budgeting has been used in over 3,000 cities around the world, including:

How Oakland’s budget works now

Every two years the mayor’s office drafts and proposes the city budget then sends it to city council for amendments and approval. There are a series of town halls and public meetings to gather feedback, but ultimately elected officials have full discretion over the budget.

Most cities use a controller to oversee the process and avoid partisan disputes. CDP’s vision goes a different direction, empowering all residents to make informed decisions and vote on how to address issues in their communities.

One budget, two funds

The city budget has two categories of funding: General Funds and Special Purpose Funds. The People’s Budget Initiative gives Oakland residents democratic control over both funds.

General Fund
The General Fund makes up 41% of Oakland’s budget and mostly comes from familiar sources like property and sales taxes. Right now these funds can be used for anything the city wants.

With a People’s Budget, any Oakland resident (16 years or older) who attended a neighborhood assembly that year will be able to vote on which department these funds should go to. The resulting budget is an average of all votes.

Special Purpose Funds
These funds include revenue from taxes or bonds already approved by voters in ballot initiatives, as well as state and federal grants. Right now the city is expected to spend these funds according to their intended purpose, though there is some room for discretion.

In a People’s Budget, delegates from each neighborhood assembly gather proposals from their neighbors. The delegates then work together to create “packages” of spending that are appropriate for the special funds. City Council may also propose their own package, in which case voters will choose between the two.

Making People Power Real

In order to make this change we need to pass a city charter amendment. This will demonstrate that people are ready to embrace direct democracy as well as make participatory budgeting part of the city’s legal fabric. Get involved today!

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