We've made the case (more than once, we're pretty sure) for robust public engagement in city government, particularly around the city budget. We think that getting the public's input before specific decisions, and not just in elections, makes democracy more democratic, helps make better policy, and, over time, builds a more informed electorate.
Now, friend-of-IOM Harris Sokoloff suggests a similar need for engagement at the state level:
Let me suggest a new play for their playbook or perhaps a whole new game they can play between now and the time the governor proposes a budget for the next fiscal year: Engage the public in conversations that will accomplish two things: Inform them of the options and costs and benefits facing the commonwealth. Inform the Legislature and the governor of what the public is likely to support or not support.
I suggest that the governor convene public meetings statewide this winter and spring, led by nonpartisan facilitators, who engage participants in real budget deliberations.
We're not sure why this idea is so surprising to us, but it makes tons of sense. We've long thought that state government occupies a strange middle ground between the bright lights of Washington and the immediacy of local government, and is poorly understood as a result. One way to address this would be a formal engagement process that lays out for citizens what the state does, and gives them a chance to grapple with the challenges it faces. Plus, as Sokoloff suggests, it might help improve the debate in Harrisburg.