Cincinnati passed its $358 million operating budget yesterday, and it’s great and all, except for the parts that aren’t. Nearly everyone on council applauded the fact that the budget is balanced, or close to balanced, or … well, I won’t replay that argument, but the city is getting close to leveling spending with what it takes in without layoffs or deep cuts to core programs.
But there are big concerns, too. Council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach questioned a few issues surrounding funding of certain non-profits and community redevelopment groups. These included $4 million borrowed from eight neighborhood TIF districts, cuts to the Neighborhood Business District Improvement Program, and some last-minute additions to the budget. Critics of the additions say they’re sweetheart deals built on cronyism. Some of the organizations in question have connections with big political players, including former Mayor Dwight Tillery’s Center for Closing the Health Gap, which will receive $500,000 from one of the Monday add-ons in the budget.
Simpson was the most vocal about the issues surrounding human services and neighborhood redevelopment funding.
“I was committed and part of an administration prior that was really invested in supporting neighborhood development in a significant way,” she said. “And we’ve cut $4.5 million to neighborhood development in this budget, and I think we’re going to regret that.”
• Council also passed Seelbach’s Domestic Partner Registry initiative yesterday, which will allow same-sex couples to register with the city so they can receive equal benefits from participating employers.
“Ten years ago, at this moment … some called this the most anti-gay city in the country, including me,” Seelbach said. “We’ve come a really long way, and this is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize marriage equality. It will soon, but until then, this is a tool.”
• A new national study by Homes for All Alliance to be released Friday shows that Cincinnati, like much of the country, is in an affordable housing crisis. More than 63 percent of households in Cincinnati are renters, not homeowners, according to the study. Of those households, half pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent, the federal threshold for unaffordable housing. Even worse, 30 percent of renters in Cincinnati spend more than half their monthly paychecks on a place to live.
A panel discussion on the study and affordable housing in Cincinnati is being held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It will feature Vice Mayor David Mann, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing Director Mary Burke Rivers, Bonnie Neumeier from Peaslee Neighborhood Center and other advocates for affordable housing.
• The Ohio House yesterday passed a measure to allow electronic tolling, which could have big implications for the Brent Spence Bridge. The bridge is crumbling, and Ohio and Kentucky are currently working on a way to rebuild it. Engineers believe it will take $2.5 billion for a new bridge, and much of that money may have to come from tolls, lawmakers say. Though Ohio is (reluctantly) on board, voters in Kentucky have voiced strong opposition to tolls.
• In the “news that isn’t really new but that you should keep an eye on anyway” category, fixes for the Voting Rights Act are still stalled in Congress and probably will be for a while. The Supreme Court struck down a segment of the law regarding standards that determine which states will receive close scrutiny due to past voting rights violations. Congress can set new standards, but given that Congress can barely decide where they're all going to grab lunch these days, it looks like it could be a long wait.
• Finally, someone took DNA from a relative of Vincent Van Gogh, and, uh, 3D printed a copy of the artist’s ear, which he is said to have cut off in a fit of mental illness in 1888. It’s on display in a German museum, because paintings are kind of boring but Jurassic Park-like replicas of severed ears from long-dead artists are awesome.