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Once Again, Anti-Rail Initiative is Defeated

By Kevin Osborne · November 9th, 2011 · News
mayor mallory.nh.4-6Mayor Mark Mallory speaks to streetcar supporters on Election Night. - Photo by Natalie Hager
For the second time in two years, Cincinnati voters have rejected a ballot measure that sought to block the city's long-planned streetcar project.

After a hard-fought campaign filled with heated rhetoric and election complaints, Issue 48 was defeated Tuesday night. A total of 35,655 votes were cast against the measure (51.54 percent), compared to 33,530 in favor (48.46 percent).

If it had been approved, Issue 48 would've prohibited city officials from spending money on anything related to preparing any type of passenger rail transit, including the streetcar system, through Dec. 31, 2020. Further, it would've restricted the city from accepting federal grants for such projects, along with entering into public-private partnerships or even accepting private investment for a passenger rail project within the city's rights-of-way.

[For more election coverage, go here for pre- and post-election stories and here for an Election Night photo gallery.]

The measure was pushed by the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and the NAACP's local chapter, which gathered enough signatures on petitions to force a ballot initiative. Generally, COAST is anti-mass transit while the NAACP believed the city should spend its limited resources on basic services and neighborhood projects.

The two groups unsuccessfully lobbied for a similar ballot measure in 2009. That initiative would've required a public vote before taxpayer money was used for any rail-related project within Cincinnati. Voters also rejected the amendment, 56 percent to 44 percent.

“We're very satisfied with the outcome,” said Rob Richardson, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress, the anti-Issue 48 campaign.

“It confirms that the city wants to move ahead with rail and wants economic development.”

Richardson conceded he was surprised by the close results, but added, “A win is a win. This is the second time that voters have confirmed they want rail. We hope our opponents will respect the will of the voters.”

Streetcar supporters say the project’s primary purpose is as an economic development tool, spurring investment in vacant and dilapidated properties along its route. Cincinnati’s proposed 3.1-mile loop would travel from downtown’s Government Square north through Over-the-Rhine to Findlay Market. If successful, it likely would be expanded later into other areas including the uptown area near the University of Cincinnati.

Studies have indicated the local streetcar system would spark nearly $1.4 billion in new development on vacant and dilapidated properties along its route. That means it would produce – when adjusted in today's value — up to $2.70 in economic activity for every $1 invested.

We think the future of the city is bright, and we're ready to move ahead,” said Richardson Tuesday night while at a victory party at Arnold's Bar & Grill downtown.

Issue 48's defeat is a major victory for Mayor Mark Mallory, who loudly and publicly stumped fro the project during the past several months. Mallory stopped by Arnold's to congratulate project supporters.

And the issue's downfall is a setback for COAST and local NAACP President Christopher Smitherman.

On its Twitter feed Tuesday night, COAST tweeted, “No modern streetcar has come to any U.S. city without bringing along a new tax. Cincinnati will bill you for the boondoggle later.”

Later, the feed added, “Well, we doubt city will ever build silly streetcar. City simply cannot afford it. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.”

Still, Smitherman scored a victory by regaining a City Council seat after a six-year absence, and also by persuading voters to approve Issue 47. That is a charter amendment that prohibits Cincinnati officials from implementing any type of fee or tax for garbage collection. The measure passed Tuesday night with 32,822 votes in favor (51.97 percent), and 30,336 opposed (48.03 percent).

To help avert a potential deficit, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. late last year proposed Cincinnati implement a garbage collection fee of up to $20 each month. City Council balked at the idea and, so far, hasn't revisited the issue. The NAACP maintained that collecting trash is a basic city service and residents shouldn't be charged extra for it.

Despite Issue 48's defeat, the garbage collection initiative is the third  charter amendment pushed by the COAST/NAACP partnership that's been approved by voters during the past four years. The others include prohibiting the city from converting the Water Works into a regional water district, and blocking the city's use of automated cameras to catch motorists who run red lights.

COAST congratulated Smitherman on his election.

(Smitherman) empowered as the new fiscal watchdog on Council. Virtually the only voice for restraint,” COAST tweeted. “We look forward to his leadership.”



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