Engaging citizens online.
The Minnesota Senate has created a new website that seeks citizen input to solve the state's projected $4.8 billion budget deficit. Visitors to the site can comment and provide their ideas for key areas in the budget. The site also has links to a wealth of background information, and Minnesota citizens are weighing in.
Nevadans are voicing their opinions on how to erase the revenue shortfall there through a new Web-based suggestion box for lawmakers. In early February, lawmakers had more than 1,200 suggestions, including taxing prostitution and establishing a state lottery. Legislative staffers are compiling the suggestions in a report every two weeks for anyone to read.
Other states have had similar initiatives, sometimes packaged with an online budget balancing game or simulation tool. Maine Governor John E. Baldacci's interactive budget balancing tool has been in place since 1999. Massachusetts Senator Richard Moore created Ma$$ Balance in 2003, when the state faced a $3 billion budget gap. It was an interactive budget simulation game where players could try balancing the budget. The site, no longer available, had more than 1.5 million hits.
For those who wonder what results from citizen suggestions, there is California Senator Joe Simitian's "There Oughta Be a Law" contest, which has a track record of seven years of legislation resulting from ideas submitted by citizens.
Additional meaningful legislative Web-based civic engagement efforts include: WestEd's Web Dialogues in California (Education Master Plan); Washington's Access to Higher Education and Obesity discussions; and Virginia Delegate Kris Amundson's Listening to Democracy's Next Generation-2008 Web dialogue.
President Barack Obama's Citizen's Briefing Book also invited ideas on issues facing the new administration and allowed citizens to rate others' suggestions, More than 70,000 people participated, with tens of thousands of ideas.