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Ithaca to vote on Justice 50, a budgeting proposal addressing how environmental efforts will support disadvantaged communities.

April 28, 2024

Common Council to Vote Wednesday on Justice 50 Environmental Proposal

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Ithaca’s Common Council is set to vote on a resolution to adopt the Justice 50 framework — a budgeting proposal setting the standards for funding disadvantaged communities in future environmental and capital projects — at its May 1 voting meeting.

Authored by Rebecca Evans, Ithaca’s director of sustainability, the Justice 50 framework aims to guide the City’s implementation of the 2019 Ithaca Green New Deal, which commits to community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. 

Taking its name from Justice 40, a federal proposal to direct 40 percent of all environmental and capital investments toward disadvantaged communities, Justice 50 sets three benchmarks for equitable environmental investment. 

The framework proposes the establishment of a “minimum investment floor” of 50 percent of total capital funding and 50 percent of funding for the Ithaca Green New Deal that would go to neighborhoods considered Climate Justice Communities. CJCs are areas in which the majority of residents are experiencing three or more items from a list of criteria, including being low income, undocumented, homeless or not possessing a high school diploma or GED as a resident who is 25 years old or older, defined by the city in a May 2022 resolution.

It also proposes a goal that 40 percent of placements in green workforce training programs would go to people in communities who meet CJC criteria or who the framework defines as being disadvantaged in other ways that CJC criteria does not address, such as being formerly incarcerated, without reliable internet access or an underemployed single parent. 

To better target projects to disadvantaged community members, the City previously allocated $50,000 to conduct a community survey more granular than the census. Data from this will be used to create a map of CJCs that the Justice 50 resolution, if passed, would serve. 

Additionally, under this proposal, 10 percent of the overall capital project budget would be used for participatory budgeting, a process in which all Ithaca residents 16 years or older could propose and vote on projects for funding. 

However, the specifics of enforcing these metrics remain to be determined. In order to meet the 50 percent funding target, the Justice 50 framework proposes amending the 2025 budget process to include a rubric for whether projects are likely to serve CJCs. 

Projects would need to enhance access to basic services such as healthcare and reliable energy or otherwise improve quality of life, and they would need to estimate which communities they would impact. 

The city would create a working group of community members to determine the exact process for implementing participatory budgeting, with a deadline of May 2025 to present a proposal to the council. 

Advocates for Justice 50 are cautiously optimistic about the future of the proposal, with some worried that the city may alter portions of the proposed framework over time.

Ace Dufresne, leader of the Ithaca chapter of the Sunrise Movement, said he was relatively confident that some form of Justice 50 would pass but worried it would not include all its current elements.

“I am concerned about it getting watered down,” Dufresne said, “especially one part of Justice 50 that is really important to me, [that participatory budgeting] be open to undocumented immigrants that live in Ithaca and people 16 and older.”

Other advocates — like Siobhan Hull ’24, leader of Climate Justice Cornell and a member of Sunrise Ithaca — expressed more confidence in the future of the proposal. Hull pointed to how around 43 percent of the city’s 2023 budget for capital projects went to climate justice communities, close to the 50 percent target of Justice 50. 

“What’s important to note is that the city is not very far from this right now,” Hull said. “This is just a way to ensure that [the city is] accountable.”

Silochanie Miller ’26 is a Sun Contributor and can be reached at [email protected].