Budgets are about priorities, and the voices at the table set those priorities. Many groups ask for change—and the budget is one of the most important pathways. A past president of the National League of Cities asserted: “We believe that every elected official would say that the budget is the single most important policy document that a local government adopts.” Or as one organizer more candidly put it to us: “Anything any politician says doesn’t mean s#*t unless it comes through at budget time.” As additional federal money for Covid-19 response and recovery becomes available, local budget advocacy will be crucial to ensuring dollars reach those most in need.
Even as individuals and organizations recognize the magnitude and importance of local budgets, they can find the budgeting process closed off and unwelcoming. From our listening sessions and interviews, we heard about local government community input sessions that are difficult to attend or so late in the budgeting process as to be meaningless. Budget documents scatter spending across departments and line-items so that residents cannot see the total amount spent on areas of interest.