Engagement-Equity Trade-Off: A Mixed-Methods Study of Participatory Budgeting and Property Tax Assessment Appeals in Large US Cities

Date of Award

August 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


Robert Bifulco

Second Advisor

Tina Nabatchi


Equity, Participatory budgeting, Process design, Property tax appeals, Public finance, Public participation

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation, comprised of three essays, addresses the following core research questions: (1) Does public participation in government result in public decisions that represent the needs and preferences of the less advantaged members of society more than the decisions made by public officials? (2) Why or why not? (3) Does the design of participatory processes matter? To answer these research questions, it considers two forms of participation in public financial affairs, including participatory budgeting (PB) and property tax assessment appeals.

The first essay measures the effects of PB on the allocation of capital funding among areas of different income levels within New York City council districts. A difference-in-differences design compares changes in the allocation of funding in adopting districts before and after the adoption of PB to changes over the same period among a control group consisting of later adopters. On average, adopting districts increase funding in the next-to-the-lowest income census tracts more than the control group, but PB does not redirect funds to the lowest income census tracts.

The second essay explores how different PB designs influence how PB participants propose and choose among capital project options. It uses process tracing and evidence from observations of PB events, interviews, and secondary sources to analyze six cases of PB in New York City districts. PB participants rarely systematically evaluate all available project options against their goals. Instead, they employ simplifying strategies and pick projects based on irrelevant factors. While certain PB designs helped people to propose clearer and more feasible projects in the early stages of PB, none of the efforts succeeded in informing participants about the projects from which they had to choose at the later PB stages.

The third essay studies the effect of property tax assessment appeals on the vertical equity of assessments and whether appeal rules matter. It examines the influence of joint condominium appeals, which allow condominium associations to file one appeal on behalf of all units, on the choice to appeal. Quasi-experimental, correlational, and descriptive methods are used to analyze data from New York City, which permits joint appeals, and Allegheny County, PA, which includes Pittsburgh and its surroundings and does not permit joint appeals. Appeals make assessments slightly more inequitable. Joint appeals cause an increase in the diversity of applicants in terms of property values but, given their low success rate, do not substantially change the effect of appeals on equity.


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