Jan 11, 2023 - News

"People's budget" introduced, but council battle looms

Members of the PB Cle coalition hold a handmade "People's Budget" sign on the steps of Cleveland City Hall.

Cleveland's activist coalitions always have the sickest fonts. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Members of the grassroots coalition PB Cle are celebrating the city's step toward creating a first-of-its-kind local "people's budget."

  • Mayor Justin Bibb, alongside council co-sponsors Stephanie Howse (Ward 7), Rebecca Maurer (Ward 12) and Jenny Spencer (Ward 15), this week introduced a proposal to allocate $5.5 million of a $40 million American Rescue Plan Act spending package to what's known as participatory budgeting.

Why it matters: With democracy increasingly under threat worldwide and local voter participation alarmingly low, the activist coalition says a "people's budget" deepens democracy by empowering communities to determine how public dollars are spent.

What they're saying: "We're here to make sure that real Clevelanders have real power to make a real impact on the issues impacting their lives," Jonathan Welle, co-coordinator of PB Cle, said at a news conference outside City Hall.

  • "No more backroom deals, no more business as usual, no more 'You gotta know a city councilperson to get something done.'"

How it works: If passed, PB Cle would create a 21-member steering committee, and residents would submit policy ideas.

  • Residents would then vote on the options, and the favorites would receive funding from the pot of allocated money.

Between the lines: PB Cle has been organizing for 18 months and has garnered support from more than 60 local organizations. They group plans to continue applying pressure to sway an ambivalent city council.

The other side: Multiple council members have expressed hostility to the idea of participatory budgeting, likening PB Cle members to "suburbanites," unqualified to determine spending priorities in Cleveland neighborhoods.

  • "Why would we give money to an outside group when council has been asking for it," Councilman Joe Jones pressed his colleagues Monday. "I know best how to allocate funds in my ward, and I'm going to be against anything that talks about taking ARPA funds and redistributing it."
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