Cantons come to Springfield: a story

Springfield happens to be one of the most common names for towns in the US, so I’m using the name as a kind of “Everytown USA”. The story that follows shows what life could be like in a small town after it has changed the form of representation from a Town Council to a Canton Forum.

Springfield has changed a lot in the last ten years, but I want to start this account by describing how we changed from an elected town council to a canton forum. Several cantons began to form in the town, mostly thru social media. By the time we were ready to make the transition, we had seven cantons representing just over half the citizens. The cantons worked together to draw up a change to the town charter that would replace the council with a canton forum. They then requested a plebiscite to determine how many in the town would be willing to support the transition. When the plebiscite was turned down by the mayor and the council, the cantons decided they would present candidates favorable to cantons, in order to get a majority on the council. Eventually the efforts paid off, and the date was set for the transition to take place.

By that time, the website of the tax collector’s office included the ability for all taxpayers to log in and select from one of the seven cantons. By the time the transition date arrived, 80% of the taxpayers had made their choice. For the first time since the town began, there were no elections for council members. Instead, the champions of each of the seven cantons met in the council chamber. 

For those who may not be familiar with how canton forums work, let me give a brief description. Each canton represents the number of citizens that previously chose that canton to represent them for the coming fiscal year. Thus, the first number associated with a canton was the number of citizens who chose them using the tax collector’s website. The twenty percent of taxpayers that did not make a choice by the cutoff date were allocated proportionally to the seven cantons, so that, for example, if the percentage of members of a canton was 45% of the total taxpayers who selected a canton, 45% of those who chose no canton would be allocated to that canton. Once that was done, there was a second number of citizens for each canton, including both those who had chosen the canton, and those who had not chosen but were proportionally allocated to it. Each canton was apportioned a percentage of the total revenues available to the forum for that year using this formula: total revenues for the year, divided by total taxpayers, times the total number of taxpayers that the canton represented. 

Over the next month the champions (the canton representative in the forum) went thru the town budget, prioritizing the budget items as a first step. Then they began the work of allocating funds for the various items. For each of the items, champions would say whether they would contribute funds to that item. For every item that was supported, the total number of taxpayers represented by the cantons contributing funds to the item needed to represent a simple majority of all taxpayers; otherwise, the item would not receive funding. During the early stages of the process, when the items were those things that the forum found to have a high priority, this process proceeded rather smoothly. But eventually the forum arrived at those budget items where a majority could not be found to support them. Around these items, those who supported them would present arguments for, while those against presented their arguments. On occasion a champion would be convinced to support the item, though sometimes he had to go to his membership to present the case there.

At the end of the process, there were always some number of budget items that could not garner a majority, and were not funded. According to the revised charter, when there was money allocated to a canton that was not expended, the money was returned to the members of that canton.

This process continued each of the following years. The police and fire departments were generally well-funded, without too much disagreement among the cantons. However, one of the areas where the discussions became contentious early on was funding for schools. With the end of council elections, the teacher’s union lost considerable influence. Over time, after many proposals had been argued over, it was decided that each of the public schools would become independent non-profits, operated by boards representing both teachers and parents. Funding went to each parent of school-aged children in the form of education vouchers, and could be used to satisfy tuition requirements at any school chosen by the parents.