Moving America Forward

Budgets as Moral Documents: A Conversation Between Mayors

September 9, 2020
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Budgets as Moral Documents: A Conversation Between Mayors

For #BuildItBackBetter, NationSwell held a conversation between two leaders blazing a trail for the country to follow: Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California and Mayor Melvin Carter of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Alongside other members of the greater NationSwell community, the two mayors discussed the innovative solutions needed to reform our institutions.

Here are some of the insights from their discussion.

  • In this time of compound crisis, the role of local, state and federal government are touching our lives more than ever before. Mayors are the focal point of government for your community, but not necessarily the focal point of authority, resources, or influence. In some cases, it’s the federal government, Congress, or state government who can unlock what citizens need.

  • Taking care of what people need here and now and making incremental change is how you build trust. Without trust, you can’t experiment with innovation — and you can’t make large-scale systemic change.

  • Too often we run governments with the goal of never falling, and then we wonder why we never see transformational progress. For many communities, the risk of maintaining the status quo is worse than the risk of trial and error.

  • A budget is not just a document full of numbers, it is a document full of values. Just like individuals and financial planners diversify our portfolios, so should cities diversify their public safety budgets. The police are one resource we can deploy as emergency response, but we should consider other investments in public safety to make sure we don’t need as much emergency response in the first place.

  • If we really want to solve violent crime in our communities, it has to be focused on social connectivity, economic empowerment, hopefulness, and the understanding that every child has the opportunity for a bright future.

  • It shouldn’t seem radical to extend what we want for ourselves to other people.

  • Charity does not equal justice. But philanthropy is a powerful tool to test ideas that can tell the story for policy change. (The universal basic income pilot in Stockton, CA under Mayor Tubbs has been paid for by philanthropy.)

  • Victims of violent crime and shootings are most likely to become perpetrators of violent crime and shooting, and a small group of individuals are responsible for a large portion of the shootings. In Stockton, CA, they have tried to reimagine public safety by intervening directly with those individuals through mentorship and employment, and have seen a 40% reduction in violent crime.

  • The private sector can support innovative government through “time, talent and treasure.” You already share your money, but consider sharing your expertise – let local leaders tap your minds to come up with innovative communities solutions.

  • The biggest challenge to progress are the limits to our imagination. If we really, truly believed that every child born in our neighborhood could be a doctor or an astronaut, then investing in their education would be a no-brainer.

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