Li Fan, who runs a private think tank in Beijing that promotes political reform and is advising Wenling officials, said, "Ordinary people have the right to ask how are you spending my money? Are you spending it on me? What are you doing with it?"
In a tentative response to the shift, Beijing has promised that all central government departments will publicly release their budgets within three years; four ministries did so this spring, publishing rough outlines of their budgets.
Some cities are also releasing spending plans, while others are holding public hearings on particular projects.
Li is working with a poor village in Sichuan Province that is putting all government spending online for the public to see.
Wenling’s approach goes much further. The public and members of local congresses get a chance to amend spending plans before they become final — unlike the norm elsewhere with legislatures rubber-stamping budgets and people having no say at all.
As the reforms spread, government officials made further accommodations. At one meeting, legislators defiantly walked out when officials refused to discuss education spending. Wenling later gave its township congresses the authority to amend the proposed budgets. People’s own sense of entitlement grew, Li said, as they realized that "the money in the budget is theirs."
AP reports that although Wenling leaders remain ambivalent about the changes there is a very slow roll out and limited scope. While low-level tensions are palpable, there is little outright debate. But it is happening.