Jul 21, 2023 - Politics

Cleveland officials dig in heels against participatory budgeting

A handmade sign reading "People's Budget"

The battle has only just begun. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Cleveland City Council certified petitions from PB Cle this week, meaning a participatory budgeting charter amendment will be on local ballots in November.

Why it matters: Voters will decide whether 2% of the city's annual budget (about $14 million) should be set aside for projects determined by the public.

Between the lines: The council, which refused to authorize a small-scale participatory budgeting pilot using federal stimulus funds, is vehemently opposing the ballot measure.

  • In announcing the petition certification, council referred to the participatory budgeting process as "generating a $14 million annual budget deficit," which could "lead to massive layoffs" and hamstring city services.

What's next: Council president Blaine Griffin said he and his colleagues would work "tirelessly" over the coming months to communicate the perils of participatory budgeting.

  • "Council welcomes the opportunity for residents to offer constructive feedback to building a better Cleveland," he said in a statement. "However, I believe the proposal presented will have devastating impacts on public safety and services in our city."

💭 Sam's thought bubble: Whether it's $14 million or $500,000 or $50, council members will oppose this measure to their last breath. As a rule, they believe only elected leaders should have the final say in the city's spending priorities.

What we're watching: How far will City Council members go to ensure that the measure does not pass?

  • Will they seek a compromise with PB Cle to avoid a permanent charter amendment? Will they seek help from state lawmakers and follow in the footsteps of former council president Kevin Kelley, who allied with Republicans in Columbus to pass statewide legislation preventing a local minimum wage increase in 2016?

The intrigue: Even Mayor Justin Bibb, an early supporter of PB Cle, issued a statement opposing the measure.

  • "The ballot issue is a permanent charter amendment rather than a pilot program" he said. "And instead of using federal funds, it will force critical cuts to other parts of the city's budget."

The bottom line: Municipal budgeting is not a zero-sum game. Letting the public allocate a small portion of the budget should not wreak havoc, as local officials are implying.

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