National League of Cities looks ahead, and backward

Bill Barnes latest column Emerging Issues: Doing Less with Less, and Beyond | does a nice job of contextualizing the fiscal crises being faced by so many cities.

At the recent NLC Congress of Cities, public talk at workshops and private chats in the hallways included comparing notes about shared services, the effects of personnel reductions, consolidations and regional approaches. “Participatory budgeting” — serious mechanisms for engaging citizens around budget questions and longer-term priorities — got lots of attention. And the question of whether temporary cuts are really permanent was debated.

Jamie Peck has looked at the evolution of participatory budgeting in the context of neoliberalism, I’m interested to know how that discussion is happening among U.S mayors.

And on looking backward:

The unusually rapid economic growth of the decade from the late 1990s onward was “a blip on the curve.” It allowed us to ignore “a lot of underlying challenges in our system of public finance,” challenges that the Great Recession “violently unmasked.” …

Well, the tide went out in 2007-08, and we can see clearly, for example, that the system for raising public revenue has not kept up with the changing U.S. economy; that changing municipal roles put new burdens on local budgets; that infrastructure and other investments lag badly; that great inequalities have accumulated and harm societal functions; and that our dysfunctional intergovernmental system isn’t resilient to great shocks.