NYC Wants You to Spend $6 Million

16 Mar

The City of New York is about to spend $6 million of taxpayers’ money, but this time, there’s a twist: taxpayers get to tell them how. If you’re a member of Freelancers Union (I’m on the Board of Directors) and came to the October and March Monthly Member Meetings, you heard me speak about Participatory Budgeting, an experiment that only one other US city (Chicago) has tried. In a nutshell, it gives people the power to decide how a certain amount of public funds will be spent. This month, voters in four New York City Council Districts will vote on which capital projects will be funded from a total budget of about $6 million, and by doing so will provide support for their neighbors and communities, an idea that Freelancers Union Members call New Mutualism.

Participatory Budgeting in New York City started last fall, when several assemblies were held for people who lived and worked in each of the Districts involved. Attendees broke into groups, brainstormed ideas, chose their top 3, and presented them to everyone. Over the following few months, volunteers and Council Members’ staffs researched the suggestions, determined their feasibility, and developed a selection to be put on the ballot. Now, the chance to choose which projects get funded is here.

Voting will take place from March 25 through April 1 in each Borough except Staten Island (click for specific dates, times, and locations):

While Participatory Budgeting isn’t limited to Freelancers Union Members, it’s an important chance for independent workers to interact with the New York City Council, which is taking notice of us. Last month, Speaker Christine Quinn mentioned Freelancers Union and Sara Horowitz in her 2012 State of the City Address, and the Council has pledged to contribute $100,000 in funding for a health clinic that will bring low-cost care to Freelancers Union Members.

On the Ballot in the 39th District are freelancer-friendly projects like a Carroll Gardens Library community space, where your networking group can meet, body weight fitness equipment in Prospect Park, so you can work off some stress caused by that big looming project, and bus countdown clocks to help get you to your next meeting on time.

So, practice a little New Mutualism this month by spending your own money: cast your ballot in the Participatory Budget Vote. Your community, your neighbors, and you will all be better off.

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