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Ask Not What Your State Can Do for You

Nichole Dupont

Not happy with what's going on in your state government? Well, now's your chance to do something about it, and win a little cash (actually a lot of cash — $10,000 to be exact).

The Boston-based Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research is sponsoring its 20th annual Better Government Competition.

The competition is open to all U.S. citizens, including students, nonprofits, entrepreneurs and muncipal officials, but the winning proposal will be developed and implemented in Massachusetts. This year's theme is "budget busters," and according to BCG director Shawni Littlehale, couldn't have come at a better time.
 
"We're always cajoling and looking for new ideas," she said in a phone interview. "It's a great opportunity for citizens to have their voices heard."

Of the roughly 250 proposals she receives every year, Littlehale said at least 50 percent are from officials in state or municipal governments. In fact, last year's winner was the mayor of Sandy Springs, Ga. His proposal, under the theme of "budget management," focused on the reduction or containment of Medicaid costs by providing housing for the homeless. The crux of his argument was that housing is a "medical intervention" and that homelessness is very expensive for everyone.

You don't have to be a mayor or a retired CIA agent to participate in the competition. Littlehale said the institute is ready to bring good ideas to fruition by providing the resources that a winner or runner-up will need to bring the proposal to completion.

"We will help them with resources for research and writing and databases," she said. "What I want is something really innovative and interesting."

She's not the only one pushing citizens to dig deep into their civic awareness and lend an idea or two. State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, is also encouraging citizens to consider sending in "smart government reform initiative."

"I urge my constituents to participate in this year's competition by suggesting new and efficient ways for public programs to operate," he said in a press relase.

Still skeptical? That's fine, according to Littlehale, but skeptical does not mean unconcerned, at least not for previous applicants.

"A lot of these bureaucracies have stayed the same. They need an injection of something new," she said. "The people who submit proposals genuinely care about the way government works. Many feel that it's not working correctly and really believe that they can change that."

If you have a good idea for fixing programs that are draining the already-sparse budget, put in your two cents. It may end up being worth $10,000 for you and millions for the state.

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