Economy League to develop Philadelphia budget simulation

April 7, 2008

The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia recently announced it received a $100,000 grant from the Lenfest Foundation to create, and bring to the community, a web-based city budget simulation that will teach residents about Philadelphia’s budgeting process. Great Expectations, a joint project of The Inquirer’s Citizen Voices program and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania, will partner with the Economy League on the project.

The simulation will let City residents try to balance their priorities for Philadelphia with real fiscal constraints and opportunities by using actual numbers from the City Budget Office. This will allow citizens to wrestle with the same trade-offs Mayor Nutter and his administration face while devising the City’s budget and will also generate more informed input into the budget process.

The Economy League will use its budget expertise on the content side of the project, and Great Expectations will contribute its extensive community forum experience in taking the simulation to groups across the city. The simulation will be online at EconomyLeague.org this August with hope that as many Philadelphians as possible will participate before City Council hearings on the Fiscal Year 2010 budget in spring 2009.

Steve Wray, Executive Director of the Economy League, explained the reasoning behind the project:

“The budget is any city’s most important policy document. Where and how the city spends its money reveals its priorities, liabilities, and obligations. In Philadelphia, however, budget documents and the budgeting process have remained the province of insiders and only the most dogged of citizens. The last mayoral election excited among Philadelphians both the desire to know how city government spends their tax dollars and the expectation of accountability for those expenditures. This game will give residents a fun way to get their opinions across.”

Both the Economy League and Great Expectations were concerned with budget literacy prior to last year’s election. The Economy League’s Issues Philadelphia website has been focused on budget information, analysis, and best practices. A more transparent budget process and increased public participation emerged as a key goal for the city from the Great Expectations Citizen Agenda process.

Chris Satullo, Director of Civic Engagement for Great Expectations and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, explains the simulation’s goals: “We’re hoping to do at least two things: 1) to use the appeal of an interactive game to coax citizens to think more deeply about the trade-offs involved in governing our city, and 2) to use the online game as the centerpiece of community forums where citizens would think through these choices together through dialogue, as well as individually while sitting at a keyboard.”

Harris Sokoloff, Faculty Director of Great Expectations and Director of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, noted that, “this project will give citizens opportunities for structured engagement in the budget process–-where citizens have a chance to learn about the budget, discuss different budget priorities, and then work through their ideas together to reach some common ground. This can dramatically improve both citizen understanding of the budget as well as support for a budget that addresses the priorities and concerns that emerge in the process.”

About the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to research and analysis of the region’s resources and challenges with the goal of promoting sound public policy and increasing the region’s prosperity. ELGP is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania Economy League, Inc., with offices in Harrisburg, Wilkes Barre, and Pittsburgh. For more information, visit EconomyLeague.org.

About Great Expectations
Great Expectations is a joint project of The Inquirer’s Citizen Voices program and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania. Learn more at GreatExpectations07.com.

About the Lenfest Foundation
Based in West Conshohocken, the Lenfest Foundation is dedicated to supporting programs primarily in the areas of education, arts, and the environment. The Lenfest Foundation’s efforts are focused mainly in southeastern and south central Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware. Visit LenfestFoundation.org for more information.

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