In participatory budgeting (PB), residents instead of public officials decide how public money is spent. PB may reveal that residents prioritize different investments than public officials, which could lead to more socially just spending. However, little research has examined whether and how PB shifts spending priorities. This study leverages publicly available records on New York City council districts’ capital project allocations over ten years (2009 through 2018), comparing spending within and across PB and non-PB districts. Multi-level regression models show that, on average, when council districts adopted PB, greater proportions of their discretionary capital budgets were allocated to schools, streets and traffic improvements, and public housing. PB was associated with decreases in spending on parks and recreation projects and housing preservation and development projects. The article shows that priorities shift when residents are directly involved in budgeting. Implications for equity and community well-being, and directions for future research are discussed.

Published in New Political Science July 16, 2020.