Local Government Finance and Budgeting 101: Encouraging Meaningful Citizen Participation through Education

By Lun, Nicole | Government Finance Review, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Local Government Finance and Budgeting 101: Encouraging Meaningful Citizen Participation through Education


Lun, Nicole, Government Finance Review


Most citizens have little knowledge about local government budgeting and its impact on their communities. This may be driven by the fact that over the last few decades, the American public has grown increasingly apathetic to political affairs and civic involvement. A recent Gallup poll showed that public trust in state and local government has declined in the last five years, due largely to the slow economy and its negative effect on budgets. (1) To counter these trends, many local governments are strategically engaging the public in local affairs through citizen education. Governments of all types and sizes are now using a variety of strategies--including newsletters, annual reports, radio programs, call centers, and high school civic classes--to develop an informed citizenry that is both interested in and capable of contributing to local policymaking.

Citizen education serves an important function in a democracy, especially in a large and complex society such as ours. Access to information is necessary for citizens to exercise political power and participate in public affairs. Citizen education provides people with the tools to understand and influence the decision-making process. Evidence suggests that when citizens participate in government activities, they are more likely to view the government as trustworthy and responsive to public concerns. (2) Ultimately, citizen education can strengthen collaboration between citizens and the government by promoting awareness and communication.

Contrary to popular perceptions, a budget is more than just a bunch of numbers; it is one of the most important public documents produced at the local level. By allocating public resources, it determines the direction, priorities, and goals of the community. Budgeting has historically been the domain of senior administrators, finance officers, and budget analysts, many of whom believed that the technical details of public finance and accounting were too complicated for average citizens. As a result, citizens were often excluded from the budgeting process until the outcomes had already been determined. This model has shifted dramatically over the last 30 years. The new model of public administration is based on the assumption that given adequate information, citizens can develop enough knowledge of government finance to effectively participate in the budgeting process.

This article discusses four ways local governments are educating citizens about budgeting: budgets-in-brief, the Internet, public access television, and citizen academies. These methods vary in terms of the time and effort they require from citizens and the types of media or technology employed. While these methods represent just a few effective strategies for educating citizens, they illustrate the range of strategies local governments are using to reach their diverse constituencies.

BUDGETS-IN-BRIEF

For citizen education to be successful, local governments must provide information that is clear and easy to understand. Also known as popular budgets, budgets-in-brief provide a concise overview of the annual budget and its key issues. Many citizens think budgets are too boring or complex to read and understand. Budgets-in-brief are an attractive alternative, because they are written specifically for a lay audience and focus on the most relevant aspects of the budget. These reports vary greatly in length and detail, but they typically include most, if not all, of the following components:

* Background information and demographics

* Discussion of local economic conditions and macroeconomic trends affecting the budget

* Organizational chart or overview of local government structure

* Statement of mission, goals, or objectives

* Operating budget--breakdown of revenues by source, breakdown of expenditures by function, descriptions of programs and services, general fund balance

* Capital budget--breakdown of revenues by source, summary of capital projects and their costs

* Details on property taxes, including total assessed valuation and rates

* Debt service funding

* Staffing information

* Historical comparisons of revenues, expenditures, property taxes, staffing levels, etc. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Local Government Finance and Budgeting 101: Encouraging Meaningful Citizen Participation through Education
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.