FEATURED PHOTO: OHIO SENATOR JERRY CIRINO R-18TH DISTRICT
OhioCapitalJournal.com, By Morgan Trau, Posted October 6th 2023
Ohio senators passed a bill to block Cleveland from allowing citizens to have a say in their city government’s budget. This comes ahead of the November election in which residents are set to vote on an amendment that proposes exactly that.
The People’s Budget initiative is aiming to let Clevelanders have more say in their local government.
The charter amendment, if passed by voters, would allow Cleveland residents to vote on how the equivalent of 2% of Cleveland’s budget, or roughly $14 million, is spent to support neighborhood and capital projects.
“It’s been really exciting to connect with people across the City of Cleveland who feel like they have really pressing needs in their neighborhoods,” campaign organizer Molly Martin said.
Although Martin knew Issue 38 would be facing an uphill battle against local government leaders, she wasn’t expecting to deal with the state.
“It’s an anti-democratic power grab by a state representative who doesn’t live or represent the city of Cleveland,” she said.
The state representative in question is State Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland), who represents the suburbs outside of Cleveland and has put a major roadblock in Martin’s way.
“It just makes no sense,” Cirino said.
He introduced Senate Bill 158, which would require that only the city council decide the budget, citing that there are other ways for citizens to have their voices heard.
“The normal process of putting pressure on elected officials and candidates versus just siphoning off $14 million,” Cirino argued.
The amendment would allow teenagers to help decide where millions of dollars go, he said, citing that anyone 16 and older can be appointed to the commission the People’s Budget would create.
He also worries about the accountability of that money. Ohio elected officials don’t have the best history of not being corrupt — despite having requirements for reporting on finances (See Larry Householder, Jimmy Dimora and P.G. Sittenfeld, just to name a few).
“Let’s not push the envelope here and make things worse by allowing unelected people to act and spend taxpayers’ money in ways that might not be appropriate,” he added.
With financial guidelines, an ethics commission, an election commission, and the fact that “the media is always watching,” elected officials can face much more scrutiny than appointed citizens, the lawmaker said.
There are literal laws in place for participatory budgeting, Martin responded, saying this isn’t a free-for-all.
“City Hall and our elected officials would follow the law and make sure that the projects that are on the ballot are ones that are legal and there is oversight in it,” Martin said. “Elected officials who are elected by the residents and voters of Cleveland have a say in appointing who those members are.”
This also isn’t a new concept they just made up, she said. Cities like Nashville and Seattle also are doing it.
She also believes Cirino’s bill would be an infringement on home rule.
“You think that we should be honoring the local authority of municipalities to let citizens decide for themselves on issues that reflect the unique needs and problems of the community,” she said.
Some Cleveland leaders were initially on board with the proposal — others, not so much. Click or tap here to learn more.
“Why not let the people of Cleveland decide this November if they want this?” Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asked Cirino.
“Well, I’m a big supporter of letting people speak at the ballot box…But when something is clearly so egregious that it would just be wrong to let it happen, there are occasions when we have to step in,” he responded.
This also breaks current state law, he said, citing Section 705.19 that “no money shall be drawn from the Treasury of a municipal corporation except in pursuance of appropriate appropriations made by the legislative authority.”
Martin testified against the state bill as it was fast-tracked through the Senate this week.
“The reason we went to the ballot is because we didn’t feel like our representatives were listening to the will of all the people,” Martin said. “Now we’re facing that boot on the neck of the people at the state level.”
The bill goes to the House, where it only needs a two-thirds vote of approval during the next session, which is scheduled for Oct. 11.