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Supporters, opponents discuss Cleveland participatory budgeting charter proposal

cleveland skyline.jpg
cleveland skyline.jpg

In November, Clevelanders will vote on a participatory budgeting charter amendment, that if passed, would allow residents to be able to directly propose and vote on how a portion of the city's budget is spent.

Participatory budgeting is a process that began in Brazil in 1989, and has been adopted by thousands of municipalities around the world.

New York City has had a program since 2011, which allocates $1 million a year to each of its council districts. Residents as young as 11 can vote to fund projects. In 2021, Seattle approved a process that allocates $27 million in public funds. And last year, Los Angeles launched an $8.5 million pilot program for nine historically disenfranchised city zones.

The charter amendment, also known as Issue 38, is supported by the grassroots organization called, "People's Budget Cleveland," also known as PB CLE, that says this would increase civic engagement, especially among difficult-to-reach communities like non-native English speakers, and public housing residents.

Several members of Cleveland city council are against the proposed charter amendment, saying that they are elected to represent residents interests. They say the money allocated for this program would lead to quote "massive layoffs."

The proposed charter amendment would allocate an equivalent of 2% of the city's general fund towards participatory budgeting. That's about $14 million, using this year's budget data.

Mayor Justin Bibb, who previously worked with PB Cle on a pilot program before it was paused by council, said he no longer supports the initiative, since it uses the city's budget instead of stimulus dollars.

Unions representing city employees like EMS and police are also against the initiative, saying the reduced funds could impact their resources.

The proposal has also caught the attention of a state lawmaker who says he plans to introduce a new law that would preemptively guarantee that local city councils can keep control over their budgets.

We've invited two proponents and two opponents of the charter amendment on Wednesday's "Sound of Ideas" to share more on this topic before early voting begins on Oct. 11.

You can also learn more about this topic at a free public debate on Tuesday, September 26 at 6pm at the Little Theater at Cleveland's Public Auditorium.

We should note that we invited a representative of the city to come on today, but they referred us to city council.

Later in the show, with the goal of improving child literacy in Cleveland, Chrishawndra Matthews has given out around 600,000 free books since she started the non-profit Literacy in the H.O.O.D. back in 2017. Hood stands for "Helping Out Our Disenfranchised." Research that year showed Cuyahoga County with an illiteracy rate of 54%.

Matthews joined us earlier this week to talk about her mission and what's next for her organization.

-Andre White, Steering Committee Member, PB CLE Campaign
-Molly Martin, Lead Organizer, PB CLE
-Richard Starr, Ward 5 Councilmember, Cleveland City Council
-Kris Harsh, Ward 13 Councilmember, Cleveland City Council
-Chrishawndra Matthews, Founder, Literacy in the H.O.O.D

Rachel is the supervising producer for Ideastream Public Media’s morning public affairs show, the “Sound of Ideas.”