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Gov. Mike DeWine says he’s not looped in on planned bill pre-empting proposed Cleveland budgeting amendment

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday that he isn’t familiar with the issues surrounding Cleveland’s upcoming participatory charter amendment proposal, much less the details of a bill planned by a Republican state senator who hopes to pass legislation blocking the measure from taking effect if voters approve it in the November election.

“I didn’t even know what was going on in Cleveland much less what Jerry is trying to do,” DeWine said, referencing the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Jerry Cirino, of Kirtland.

DeWine’s support likely would be needed for the bill to to achieve Cirino’s stated goal of thwarting the participatory budgeting charter amendment, called the Peoples Budget amendment. But DeWine told a reporter on Tuesday he has “no thoughts” on the bill and didn’t seem familiar with the bill beyond the fact that Cirino had announced it on Monday.

The bill would have to pass with an emergency clause, which requires a two-thirds vote from both the Ohio House and Senate, in order to take effect before the Nov. 8 election. The legislature could pass the bill without DeWine’s approval, but the process of overriding a veto would take time. Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers.

Cirino announced his bill Monday, formally introduced it on Tuesday, and has said it will get its first committee hearing on Wednesday afternoon in Columbus. The bill, titled Senate Bill 158, is only 80 words, and would ban charter municipal governments like Cleveland from “requiring or allowing the legislative authority to appropriate, allocate, or draw money from the treasury for the funds to instead be distributed or otherwise disbursed by a vote of residents.”

Any charter provision passed that does so “is void and has no legal effect,” the bill text says.

Cirino said he introduced his bill at the request of local union leaders.

The proposal would set aside the equivalent of 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.

Backers of the People’s Budget amendment say it would give city residents more say over how their tax money is spent and foster civic participation in a city where voter turnout has declined precipitously .

But opponents, including Cleveland Mayor Bibb and City Council President Blaine Griffin, who both are Democrats, have said the bill could prompt layoffs and blow a hole in what they describe as an already-slim budget.

Despite home-rule protections in the state constitution, the Republican-controlled state legislature has a lengthy track record of passing laws blocking Cleveland and other largely Democratic cities from setting their own laws on myriad topics including guns, fracking, animal safety, nutrition and tax collection.

There’s also a recent precedent in which state lawmakers passed a law change to thwart a Cleveland ballot issue backed by progressive city activists but opposed by Democratic city leaders.

In December 2016, then-Gov. John Kasich signed a bill preventing Cleveland from holding a vote the following year setting a $15 minimum wage within the city. City leaders at the time opposed the measure, saying it would harm Cleveland’s business climate by not applying outside of city limits.

Andrew Tobias covers state politics and government for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer

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