To put people before money, we must flip the way we make public budgets.
How we raise and spend public money reflects our values. Are we seeking to advance equity and enable everyone to live with dignity? Budget and revenue policies can make those values a reality – or they can do the opposite. In this age of austerity policies, people’s needs and rights are routinely sidelined by drastic cuts to public services and programs and by regressive taxes that let corporations off the hook and make lower-income people pay proportionately more than the rich. The values espoused in this kind of budgeting are not equality and dignity but a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps individualism shaped by greed and a myth of scarcity. Yet the United States has more than enough to meet everyone’s needs: we simply must distribute our resources more equitably. NESRI advocates using human rights to develop an entirely different way of making budgets that puts people over money.
Human rights budgeting flips the way we make public budgets: rather than adjusting spending to available revenue, revenue policy follows a needs-based budget. By starting with needs assessments, applying a human rights indicator system, and raising revenue equitably to meet needs, human rights budgeting can spearhead a redistribution of resources through both spending and taxation. Human rights budgeting is a comprehensive and participatory approach that can strengthen the democratic process and improve budget outcomes. NESRI seeks to support grassroots groups in their local and state budget advocacy to ensure fully participatory budget processes that are guided by human rights norms.