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Top Bibb aide opposes state bill that would block Cleveland charter amendment ahead of November election

2023-09-26
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb opposes a bill that seeks to block the city's participatory budgeting charter amendment from taking effect should voters approve it in November, according to testimony a top aide submitted to a state Senate committee considering the legislation. Bibb and his administration oppose the proposed People's Budget amendment, according to Ryan Puente, the mayor's deputy chief of staff and government affairs officer. But it also opposes Senate Bill 158, which, if passed, would block the measure from taking effect. "While Senate Bill 158 on its surface is intended to be helpful, the legislation would perpetuate the continued flow of preemption laws in Ohio that erode local control and hamper the ability of cities and its citizens to implement policies reflective of the unique needs of their communities," Puente said in written testimony submitted to the Senate General Government Committee. Representatives of two influential groups meanwhile gave in-person testimony supporting the bill during a Tuesday committee hearing: the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the local chamber of commerce group, and ACT-Ohio, a labor group that represents the state building trades. Both groups said the proposal would tie city government's hands when deciding how to allocate scarce resources. "We have no interest in seeing shadow groups siphon off taxpayer resources," said ACT-Ohio President Matt Szollosi, a former Democratic state legislator. "We have elections for a reason, and I think it sets a bad precedent." Cleveland voters are set to vote on Nov. 7 on the People's Budget charter amendment. It would set aside 2% of the city's general fund each year -- roughly $14 million based on this year's budget -- so residents can choose how they want to spend it through a voting process overseen by an 11-person steering committee. The amendment's backers say it would promote civic participation in a city marred by low voter turnout and give the public, including underrepresented groups, a greater say over how their tax money is spent. Democratic city leaders, as well as local labor unions, oppose the measure, saying it could force the city to make budget cuts, including to police and other public safety services. Geauga County Republican state Sen. Jerry Cirino, SB 158's sponsor, has said the proposal undermines Cleveland's ability to set its own budget, and that he's concerned the idea could spread to other cities. He said he proposed the bill following a conversation with local trade unions, and hadn't spoken about it with city officials. A number of Cleveland activists also testified against the bill Tuesday, including Molly Martin, a leader with the campaign that proposed the charter amendment. The Ohio Municipal League, a trade group that represents city governments, also testified against the proposal on the grounds that it would erode home rule powers. The amendment has another committee hearing scheduled this week, suggesting it could be fast-tracked for a vote by the full Senate, something that would need to happen if it's going to to take effect before the November election. Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican who plays a central role in deciding what bills the chamber votes on, sat in on Tuesday's committee hearing and asked questions about details of the charter amendment, including mandated administrative costs detailed in the charter amendment text. Gov. Mike DeWine, whose signature would be needed to get the bill over the finish line before the November election, said recently that he was unaware of Cirino's proposal.

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