Tulsa Oklahoma skyline over the river.

Tulsa, OK – CC Photo © Caleb Long

The city of Tulsa, OK has opened up its decision making process to its citizens to help decide how it should spend funds generated by extending the expiring Vision 2015 tax to 2025. City officials are collecting pitches this month for ideas on how to spend the approximately $300 million the extension would generate via social media (using the hashtag #VisionTulsa), email and public meetings. This campaign has the potential to dramatically increase the public’s trust in its city government, but how much depends on how responsive the government is to the proffered ideas.

The more governments create opportunities for the public to participate in the development of policy and the allocation of budgets, the more the people feel that government is responsive to their needs and desires — political efficacy. But while any opportunity to bring the public into the decision making process is good, the best opportunity comes from making the public’s collective decision on how to spend the budget (even a small part of it, as in this case) binding.

And the benefits to the city from this effort, should it make the public’s desires binding, is more than just improved efficacy. According to research by Tiago Peixoto at the World Bank, participatory budgeting projects can increase citizen tax compliance. In other words, the program could generate more revenue for the city by reducing the rate at which people skip out on paying the taxes they owe.

So far there have been 36 tweets using the #VisionTulsa hashtag and not all are supportive of the effort. Some are calling to let the tax increase expire, altogether. Other proposals include spending it on economic development projects and spending it on low-water dams along the Arkansas River to mitigate flood risks.

The first of what will surely be many public meetings on this decision took place Monday, July 6.


Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at turner4D.