Jun 15, 2023 - News

How Bostonians can spend the mayor's money

Photo illustration of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu with lines radiating from her.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

City Hall will let ordinary Bostonians, not elected officials or bureaucrats, decide how to spend a portion of the city budget next year.

Why it matters: It's the first time residents will have a say in how to spend their tax dollars through a process known as "participatory budgeting" that's gaining popularity in progressive cities.

How it works: Cambridge has used a similar system for nearly a decade and Somerville is conducting its first cycle now. During Cambridge's budgeting process, residents are encouraged to submit ideas for how to disperse a total of $1 million in one-time grants for improvements to the city.

  • From there, volunteers research ideas and develop a slate of proposals for residents to vote on.
  • This past December, nearly 9,000 Cantabrigians aged 12 and older voted online, IRL and over the phone for winning projects like park trees, tech upgrades for youth centers and EV chargers.

The goal is to increase the role low-income earners, non-citizens and young people play in distributing tax dollars.

Zoom in: Boston hasn't yet decided how much money they'll let people mess around with. Whatever amount Wu and the council settle on will likely only scratch the surface of the city's total $4 billion budget that controls schools, police and other services.

State of play: The Council yesterday rejected calls from advocates to pump $40 million into the program this year.

  • Instead, Mayor Wu is setting aside $2 million for it, meant only to get the program off the ground, appoint overseers to key positions and put a structure in place.
  • It's expected Wu and the Council will appropriate more next year for a full launch.

Flashback: Voters called for participatory budgeting through a 2021 ballot measure.

What's next: Renato Castelo, a Wu aide currently working for the Office of Immigrant Advancement, starts as the inaugural director of the Office of Participatory Budgeting Tuesday.

  • The office will work with an external oversight board to come up with a process for Bostonians to directly pitch new projects and prioritize existing projects.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.

More Boston stories