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Ohio state senator plans to block Cleveland's 'People's Budget' proposal with new bill

State Sen. Jerry Cirino stands behind a podium with two microphones. Sens. Sandra O'Brien and Michael Rulli and an oval sign reading, "The Ohio Statehouse" are behind him.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
"I think it's such a bad idea," said State Senator Jerry Cirino. "We just don't want that to happen."

An Ohio state senator plans to introduce a new law to preemptively block an upcoming ballot measure that would give city residents control of a portion of Cleveland’s budget.

The bill, which is slated to be introduced by Republican State Senator Jerry Cirino Tuesday would legally guarantee that local city councils can keep control over its budgets.

It’s direct action against Issue 38, a charter amendment proposal that would allocate roughly $14 million of the city’s budget to a participatory budget dedicated to projects and programs voted on by Cleveland residents, said Cirino, who represents Ohio's 18th Senate district, which stretches from Cleveland's southwest into Lake County.

"It’s not fiscally responsible, and it really steps in and takes away the fiscal authority and fiscal responsibility that elected officials, i.e. city council, has," he said.

Cirino is worried that Cleveland may set a precedent for other Ohio cities to enact similar participatory budgeting measures, he said.

"I think it's such a bad idea," Cirino said. "We just don't want that to happen."

Cirino joins a chorus of local officials, including Cleveland City Council and Mayor Justin Bibb, in opposing the measure. Bibb worked with Participatory Budget Cleveland, the grassroots organizing coalition known as PB CLE, on a pilot program proposal earlier this year that city council ultimately killed. Bibb has said he does not support the participatory budgeting charter amendment proposal. Members of Cleveland City Council, most of whom were opposed to the pilot program, doubled down on their opposition since the measure qualified for the November ballot, warning of potential layoffs and department cuts.

"I think participatory budgeting is just the wrong way to manage the fiscal aspects of our cities and certainly would be the wrong application of citizen input," Cirino said. "They already have input by electing council people and the mayor."

Cirino is hoping to move with urgency to disqualify the charter amendment proposal on the November ballot, he said.

"PB CLE's disappointed, but not surprised that Republicans in Columbus would undermine the democratic process here in Cleveland," said Jonathan Welle, a member of PB CLE's steering committee. "What's even more regrettable is that yesterday, Cleveland City Council and Republicans in Columbus used the same playbook to try to defeat residents' wants."

On Monday, Cleveland City Council planned to introduce, then promptly killed, an ordinance that would allow them to use city funds to directly campaign against ballot initiatives like Issue 38.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.