The municipal initiative and referendum processes are two of the best tools available to push back against crony capitalism. Votes on controversial city spending should be common practice. Unfortunately citizens often need to organize and spend big money to defend against city councils working with developers and construction companies getting special taxpayer funded projects. Voters deserve a say when their city council attempts to put them on hook for millions by bonding projects like streetcars and trolleys.
Last summer voters shut down a city attempt establish a new streetcar taxing district in Kansas City, Missouri. While not an example of referendum this is a great case for allowing citizens to vote on the funding plans for these projects. We can see who spends money to support streetcar expansion:
“The pro-streetcar campaign, called Connect KC, raised more than $387,000, with large contributions from the downtown Marriott, Burns & McDonnell and other major construction and engineering firms, law firms and development boosters.” Now citizens are petitioning to prevent the city from spending tax money to expand the streetcar system.
In San Antonio, Texas citizens have taken a proactive approach and petitioned to amend the city charter prohibiting the city from starting a streetcar project without voter approval.