On May 22, the two Republicans on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) asking its governing board to pull $4 million in federal funding for Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The only problem: Pulling the funding isn’t contractually allowed, according to the city and federal government.
That might seem like a big blunder, but the legality of the idea apparently wasn’t very important to Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel, who wrote the letter to OKI. When media outlets asked Hartmann if he had verified whether pulling the funding would be allowed, he said no, he hadn’t looked into it.
Really, guys? You couldn’t take the one day it took the city to call up the federal government and ask if the funding shift is allowed? It didn’t occur to you that county commissioners and OKI should follow contractual obligations before moving forward with a major policy change?
The ridiculous situation gets to a serious problem with local politics today: When local politicians and candidates suggest ideas, the substance rarely matters to them or voters. On the politician’s side, it’s nice to just get on the news with something that might sound appealing to voters, whether it derides the streetcar, Cincinnati’s budget plan or a plan to semi-privatize the city’s parking assets. On the voter’s side, some of these issues are just too complicated to fully understand, especially since so many constituents base their policy ideas off sound bites and pulled quotes.
But the problem with the commissioners’ suggestion goes beyond legality; the commissioners also seemed to ignore the basic purpose of the $4 million in federal grant money.
When the federal government handed down Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant funds around the nation, the purpose of the grant was made perfectly clear in both the grant’s name and the rules behind the federal funds: The money has to go toward reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality, preferably through a major transit project.
Yet when Hartmann was asked what he would rather see the CMAQ funds go to, he suggested the MLK/I-71 Interchange project.
The big reason the United States has a traffic congestion problem to begin with is its heavy reliance on roads and highways that are jammed with personal cars. The CMAQ Grant aims to reduce that congestion and the air pollution it causes by enabling more clean public transportation options.
So to come back and suggest the CMAQ Grant should be used on yet another highway project completely misses the grant’s point. It’s one thing to misunderstand the legal technicalities behind the grant, but commissioners should at least verify the grant’s sole philosophical purpose before making suggestions.
Other News and Stuff
• A majority of City Council now backs a budget plan that would avert a majority of layoffs previously proposed by the city manager and restore funding for parks, human services and outside agencies that was cut in previous proposals. Throughout the past six months, the city administration warned it would have to cut 80 fire positions and 189 police positions without a plan to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority, but City Council’s budget plan reduces the public safety layoffs to zero even as the parking plan is held up in court.
• Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald came out in support of same-sex marriage in a May 17 interview, putting him at odds with Republican opponent and incumbent Gov. John Kasich. The two men will face off in the 2014 gubernatorial race, and the differing stances on same-sex marriage could put LGBT issues at the center of the ballot. Previously, Kasich implied support for same-sex civil unions in an interview with a local TV news station, but his spokesperson later walked back the comments and solidified the government’s opposition to same-sex marriage and civil unions.
• Ohio’s attorney general and Ballot Board verified the ballot language for an amendment that would legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp in the state. Advocates say the amendment would provide economic and medical boons for Ohio, but opponents say they would rather see the Food and Drug Administration scrutinize the drug through traditional channels, much like the agency previously did with the marijuana-based Marinol. The issue could be on the ballot as early as 2013 or 2014.