A group working to defeat Issue 48 filed a complaint today against a conservative group with the Ohio Elections Commission.
Cincinnatians for Progress, which is urging a "no" vote on Issue 48, filed the complaint against the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). It alleges COAST knowingly and repeatedly has made false statements in its campaign in support of the ballot initiative.
The complaint cites 20 instances in the past two months in which COAST allegedly made false statements in violation of Ohio Revised Code Section 3517.22. Most involve allegations the city has taken funds away from fire services to fund the streetcar project.
On its Twitter feed, COAST has made multiple allegations on a daily basis of blaming the "browning out" of certain Fire Department companies on the streetcar project. It has made similar claims on the campaign trail. “Companies” is firefighter lingo for a ladder track, a pumper or a heavy rescue unit and the four people who work on each. During a brownout, those workers are transferred to other duties. City administrators have said the actions are needed to reduce the department's soaring overtime costs and help avoid a projected deficit for 2012 that could reach $33 million.
The brownouts are unconnected to the streetcar project, administrators added. The project is funded through state and federal grants, along with construction bonds from the city's Capital Improvements budget. But the brownouts are needed to cut costs in the city's General Fund budget, which covers daily operations.
Neither Chris Finney nor Tom Brinkman Jr., two COAST leaders, responded to an email seeking comment.
Under Ohio elections law, anyone found guilty of making false statements could face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
In its press release announcing the complaint, Cincinnatians for Progress stated, "COAST has conducted a relentless campaign of deliberate misinformation about Issue 48 in the face of definitive evidence that their statements are wrong. Not only are the facts widely available in local media and city records, they have been provided directly to COAST officials by the city."
The release added, "Our goal in filing this action to to assure that city voters can cast their ballots based on accurate, authoritative information."
If approved by voters, Issue 48 would prohibit Cincinnati from building any streetcar system through Dec. 31, 2020. Because the initiative also prohibits any design or planning work for a system, it likely blocks any such project for at least 15 years, urban planning experts have said.
Issue 48 is being pushed by COAST and the NAACP's local chapter.
The two groups backed a similar ballot initiative in 2009. It sought to require a public vote before taxpayer money was used for any rail-related project within Cincinnati; voters rejected the amendment, 56 percent to 44 percent.