CLEVELAND — You may have heard of a push for a “People’s Budget” in Cleveland, but what does it mean?
As cities across the country implement participatory budgeting in their local governments, some organizers in Cleveland are hoping to be next.
A local activist and organizer, Michelle B. Jackson, doesn’t leave home without pamphlets she can give out to people she runs into throughout the day.
“If I see a couple of brothers or some folks in a low density, low propensity voting area, I will literally jump out the car and say, ‘Oh, can I talk to you for a minute about this,’” she said.
Jackson’s latest efforts are with a group of local activists called PB CLE.
They’re pushing for participatory budgeting in Cleveland, a campaign they started after the city received one of the largest sums of COVID relief money in the country of $512 million.
“American Rescue Plan Act dollars, ARPA, are intended to restore and rebuild communities,” she said.
The organizers with PB CLE believe residents should have a stronger say in where the city’s money is spent.
They’re asking for $510,000 to staff a committee and run meetings and $5 million of the ARPA fund spending to be handled by residents.
“It starts with ideas,” Jackson said. “You brainstorm ideas. Those ideas are made into proposals. Those proposals will go through sort of like a budget process to say, which department in the city of Cleveland would have to be in a part of this to make this happen? And then a ballot is created.”
The process would be open to any resident who is over 13 years old with the $5 million split between six neighborhoods.
According to Daniel Ortiz, a director with Policy Matters Ohio, participatory budgeting is a process that’s been implemented in many cities across the U.S. and abroad, and he said it’s a pretty popular concept in Ohio.
“There's other polling that we've done at policy matters to look at how Ohioans feel about participatory budgeting, and overwhelmingly, it's a popular idea,” Ortiz said. “Statewide polling shows that there's 70% support for participatory budgeting, but when we look at urban areas, we're looking at much higher support, 76% across the board in urban areas, and even higher levels in Cleveland.”
One of those supporters is Glenville resident and community organizer, Jennifer Lumpkin.
She said participatory budgeting would allow residents to directly address the issues that matter most to their neighborhoods.
“It's also an opportunity to share power and decentralize,” Lumpkin said. “So, we all vote for our council persons, we all vote for a central committee precinct persons, I'm one of them. However, there's definitely a need to have more distributed power, and have been more clear as to how certain things in our community come to exist.”
Jackson said it’s been a long two years trying to get the idea through council.
Mayor Justin Bibb proposed the idea this year, and four councilors support it, but several others, including Council President Blaine Griffin, said it should be up to the representatives who were voted into office to manage the budget.
“The concept that we don’t represent the people, to me, is asinine,” Griffin said in a January committee meeting. “All I do is people. All day, every day.”
Jackson said it’s not about taking power away from council, but to complement it by expanding civic engagement and creating a stronger sense of community.
“It’s to the benefit of the entire city of Cleveland to our growth in the 21st century, to have citizens involved, citizens caring,” Jackson said. “Citizens like, ‘This is my community. I support you, my elected official. I need for you to support me.’ And I think that that’s the kind of thing that PB does.”
Cleveland’s Finance, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee tabled the proposal in late January, but organizers with PB CLE said they’re already planning next steps.