Budgeting institutions in the state of Rio Grande do Sul bring participatory democracy to public finance. A chief impact of participatory institutions is to change the relative power of groups within society. In this case, with the Workers’ Party in state office, participatory decision-making strengthened lower-class groups interested in redistribution to the poor.
Putting participatory budgeting (PB) in place was no easy task, however, as it required overcoming the difficulties of incorporating face-to-face decision-making at a scale unprecedented in terms of the number of people and the amount of money at stake. More significantly, implementing participatory budgeting sparked the political opposition of those who had benefited from more closed decision-making structures.
Despite these obstacles, the PB has attracted hundreds of thousands of participants and has had a significant impact. Institutionally, PB opens avenues for participation to previously ignored segments of society and enhances government accountability. Politically, participatory budgeting shows signs of shifting the balance of power in the party system. And fiscally, the PB has promoted a redistributive development model while improving budgetary planning and efficiency. In short, the PB is the instrument and example of a lower-class political project that includes a participatory vision of democracy and a redistributive vision of development.