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PB CLE takes its plan for participatory budgeting to Cleveland voters

Robin Brown and several other PB CLE advocates rallied in front of Cleveland City Hall.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Robin Brown and several other PB CLE advocates rallied in front of Cleveland City Hall in January.

The grassroots organization pushing for a participatory budget in the City of Cleveland has a new plan for getting its initiative on the November ballot.

People’s Budget Cleveland (PB CLE) changed its name from Participatory Budget Cleveland since January when city council turned down its proposal to use $5.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act money to create a pilot participatory budget program.

PB CLE’s new plan is to collect the needed 6,000 valid signatures from registered voters in Cleveland. In doing so, PB CLE can bypass city council approval to get its initiative on the ballot.

The ballot initiative would amend the city charter so that 2% of Cleveland’s general fund goes toward a participatory budget process. More specifically, PB CLE is looking for $350,000 in the first year of adopting this measure, 1% of the city’s general fund in the second year, 1.5% in the third year and 2% in the fourth year.

“The best way to build a movement for a people’s budget is to do the most democratic thing possible, which is – let’s take it directly to the ballot to let Cleveland residents decide,” said Molly Martin, PB CLE campaign manager. “Participatory budgeting is not to disregard the nuance compromises that public officials have to make.”

The City of Cleveland’s general fund for the current fiscal year is $710 million.

“In a lot of ways, PB is an experiment, just like democracy is an experiment,” Martin said. “This is going to have to be something that we learn while doing and that’s kind of the beauty of it. It’s kind of expanding our notion of what representation looks like.”

PB CLE 's goal is to collect 15,000 signatures by early July to have sufficient time to validate the required 6,000 signatures and get the measure before voters in November.

A participatory budget would give community members a more direct say in how city dollars are spent.

“It would provide community engagement, democracy and transparency of tax payers dollars,” said Andre White, a PB CLE steering committee member and Lee-Harvard neighborhood resident since 1976. “People would like to know, where is the money at? Where’s our tax dollars going to?”

With PB CLE’s proposal, people would be able to propose ideas for spending money, and people living in Cleveland would be able to vote on whether the ideas are worth receiving money. Clevelander’s who are 13 or older would be able to take part in the proposal and voting process.

PB CLE said it is working with an organization called the Participatory Budgeting Project to create a secure and valid voting process. The Participatory Budgeting Project has experience doing this work in cities across the U.S. and Canada.

PB CLE believes this process would improve civic engagement among Clevelanders. Only about 58,000 Clevelanders voted in the last mayoral election.

“If you’re telling folks that you can come in, make proposals of projects that you’d like to see and you have the opportunity to vote for it and then see it work,” White said. “I think that would make them come out.”

White said PB CLE has support from Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration in creating this ballot initiative. Participatory budgeting was one of Bibb’s campaign promises during his 2021 mayoral campaign.

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.