Here at CityBeat, we cover a lot of budget hearings, and they can very easily wear us down with their partisan squabbles and monotonous focus on details that everyone will forget about in a week or so.
Right now, we're watching the Ohio Senate budget hearings, which have so far involved Democrats repeatedly bringing up amendments only to get them shot down by the Republican majority. Very repetitive, very boring.
Thankfully, the Internet has given us the chance to take what we like to call "cat breaks." This video — arguably the greatest thing in the entire Internet — is the latest example:
We encourage you to do the same while you're at work. If your employer ever questions the practice, just point him or her to the study that found looking at cute animals actually boosts productivity.
Compared to the previous budget, the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly Thursday increased school funding by $700 million. But the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools received in 2009.
The result: Cincinnati Public Schools will receive $15 million less in state funding than it did in 2009, joining three in four school districts who have a net loss to funding between 2009 and 2015.
Still, Republicans are calling the funding boost the largest increase to education spending in more than 10 years.
“No school district in the state of Ohio will receive less funding than current levels,” says Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans. “Eighty percent of Ohio’s students … are in one of the school districts that is receiving an increase.”
Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says the claim is dishonest because it ignores longer-term trends in funding.
“It’s like they cut off both of your legs, give you back one of them and say, 'You should thank us,'” he says.
Republicans defend the cuts by citing an $8 billion deficit in 2011, which had to be eliminated under state law. Some of the cuts from that previous budget directly impacted school funding, but the decreases also eliminated subsidies that previously benefited schools, such as tangible personal property reimbursements.
Dyer says the state budget situation has changed since then. Instead of focusing on tax cuts, he argues state legislators should have prioritized education funding.
Another problem, according to Dyer, is how the increased funding is distributed. Although Dyer acknowledges the plan is more equitable than the governor’s original proposal, he says some of the most impoverished schools districts, particularly the poor and rural, will get the smallest increases.
Even if there was full equity, Dyer claims there’s not enough money going into education as a result of years of cuts. To illustrate his point, he gives an example: “If I’m going to go see Superman with three of my friends and it costs $10 each to get in, I’ve got $36 and I give everybody $9, none of us are getting in. Even though I perfectly distributed the money equally, … the fact is none of us are getting in.”
The budget’s tax changes could also impact future local funding to schools. As part of the changes, the state will not subsidize 12.5 percent of future property tax levies — something the state does for current levies. For local taxpayers, that means new school levies will be 12.5 percent more expensive.
That, Dyer argues, will make it more difficult to pass future school levies, and that could force schools to ask for less money if they want levies to get voter approval.
“The legislature and legislators are doing a real disservice to people to tell everybody that they’re getting an increase and no one is getting cut,” Dyer says. “They need to be honest with people.”
The budget also increases funding to “school choice” options, including the addition of 2,000 vouchers for private schooling that will be available to kindergarten students in households making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Republicans argue the vouchers give lower-income children access to schools and options in education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
But a January report from Policy Matters Ohio found the extra mobility enabled by school choice options hurts student performance and strains teachers and staff by forcing them to more often accommodate new students.
The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it this weekend.Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
It’s nearly budget season in Cincinnati again. In a bit of a head start, City Manager Milton Dohoney has unveiled his plan to look into privatizing the city’s parking services.In a memo to city employees, Dohoney claimed leasing could provide a few benefits to the city: “For example, a third party can invest in technology across the entire system more efficiently, can conduct enforcement and bill scofflaws, and can assume maintenance and facility upgrades to the system. ... Further, leasing the system could allow the City government to focus current staff on other services, and provide a pool of funding that could be paid immediately to support neighborhood investment among other priorities.”
Dohoney also wrote he had met with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers that would be affected by the change. He assured any new parking operator would have to interview AFSCME parking workers for jobs.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld responded to the proposal critically in a statement: “I’ll await more details, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget, and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t need while were experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Some have cited the experience in Chicago as a failure of privatization. When New York City moved to privatize its parking meters, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone criticized New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his plan: “These deals involve a sitting executive selling off a valuable piece of city property at a steep discount to private financial interests (often, to friends or campaign contributors), in order to solve a current cash flow problem that, surprise, surprise, will still be there the year after you finish spending the proceeds of your sale.”
But New York City’s plan for privatized parking meters kept pricing in public
hands. It’s possible Cincinnati could take a similar approach and keep meter rates at the same level.
The full budget proposal typically comes out in late November. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council will have to approve the proposal.
Mitt Romney was criticized for wanting to “kill Big Bird” due to his proposed cuts to publicly funded media, and now City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. could face similar criticism. In his 2013 budget proposal, Dohoney suggested eliminating $300,000 in support to Media Bridges, an organization that provides public access TV and radio stations in Cincinnati.
Tom Bishop, executive director of Media Bridges, called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget. He described dire circumstances in which Ohio originally cut funding to Media Bridges in June 2011, leaving the organization with $198,000 from remaining money in the state fund and $300,000 from Cincinnati’s general fund. The state fund was provided by Time Warner Cable, and lobbying from the cable company is what eventually led to the fund’s elimination. The end of the Time Warner fund cut Media Bridges’ budget by one-third, forcing the organization to change facilities to make ends meet with less space.
With the city manager proposing to cut the city’s $300,000 in funding, Media Bridges is essentially losing $498,000 in 2013. Bishop says that’s about 85 percent of the organization’s budget — a financial gap that would be practically impossible to overcome. “If it’s a complete cut, we’re looking at liquidation,” says Bishop.
When it was notified of the changes a few months ago, Media Bridges gave an alternative plan to the mayor’s office that keeps $300,000 in funding every year after a six-month transition period. But even that plan isn’t ideal, according to Bishop. It would force Media Bridges to cut four staff members, become more dependent on automation and charge $200 a year for memberships with a sliding scale for low-income members.
Media Bridges will be reaching out to the public, mayor and
council members in the coming weeks to draw support in fighting the cuts.
At the government meetings, Bishop will make the plea that public access outlets are important for low-income families. He says it’s true that the Internet and cable television have expanded media options for the public, but, according to the 2010 Greater Cincinnati Survey, more than 40 percent of people in Cincinnati don’t have access to broadband. That’s a large amount of the population that will be left without a way to easily speak out in media if Media Bridges funding is dissolved.
In a world of saturated media, Bishop rhetorically asked why four TV channels that do a public service would need to be targeted: “Does it seem so ridiculous that the people should have a tiny bit of that bandwidth so that they can communicate with the community, share cultural events, share what’s going on in the community and participate politically?”
He added the organization also provides educational access, which allows institutions like the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools and various private schools to reach out to the community.
Media Bridges also sees the cuts as a bit unfair relative to other budget items. Bishop acknowledges “fiscal times are hard,” but he pointed out CitiCable, which broadcasts City Council meetings and other educational services, is getting more than $750,000 in the proposed budget to run one TV channel, while Media Bridges isn't getting $300,000 to run four TV channels and a radio station. He praised CitiCable — “Those guys do a great job over there; they provide a great service” — but he also says the disproportionate cuts are “just not right.”
The cuts to Media Bridges are some of many adjustments in the budget proposal by Dohoney. To balance Cincinnati’s estimated $34 million deficit, Dohoney suggested pursuing privatizing parking services and other cuts, including the elimination of the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit and a $610,770 reduction to human services funding.
Update (Nov. 30, 3:45 p.m.): Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the city manager's office, called back CityBeat after this story was published. She explained Media Bridges was a target for cuts for two reasons: The program was ranked low in importance in public feedback gathered during the priority-driven budget process, and Media Bridges isn't seen as a core city service.
Olberding also said that while some funding does flow through the city to CitiCable, that money has always come from franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner. In the case of Media Bridges, the city was not funding the program until it picked up the tab in 2011. Until that point, Media Bridges was funded through the now-gone Time Warner fund. Only after funding was lost did the city government provide a “one-year reprieve” in the general fund to keep Media Bridges afloat, according to Olberding.
In the first of three debates for Ohio’s seat in the U.S.
Senate, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh
Mandel agreed on little and clashed on a lot. Each candidate mostly focused on the opposing candidate's record, but the debate today did move to substantial differences in policy at some
The debate started with opening statements from a noticeably feisty Brown, who criticized Mandel for calling his vote for the auto bailout “un-American.” On the other side of the aisle, Mandel began his opening statement with a joke about shaving before he turns 36. The joke was the last time either of the men spoke with a light heart.
The candidates blasted each other mostly for their records. Mandel touted Ohio's and the nation’s higher unemployment rate since Brown took office in 2006, energy prices and the U.S. debt. He also said the Senate had not passed a budget in three years, although Congress has actually passed budget resolutions in that time.
Brown fired back with claims Mandel had filled the state treasurer’s office with cronies. He also criticized Mandel for running for four different political offices in seven years. In his closing statement, Brown said Mandel is “too concerned about running for his next job” to be trusted.
On substance, Brown and Mandel criticized just about everything about each other. Brown claimed Mandel signed away his “right to think” by agreeing to lobbyist Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes while in office. He said the pledge makes it so if Mandel does take office, he’ll never be able to close tax loopholes for big corporations.
Mandel defended the pledge by saying, “I’m proud to stand
for lower taxes in our state and lower taxes in our country.” He added, “I will
do everything I can to advocate for lower taxes across the board for the middle
class and job creators as well.”
The term “job creators” is typically used in politics to reference wealthy Americans, who Republicans claim create jobs through the theory of trickle-down economics. The economic theory states that wealthy Americans will hire more lower-class Americans if they have more money and freedom, essentially creating a trickle-down effect on wealth from the rich to the poor. Although Republicans still tout the theory, some economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, say the financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation that led to it prove trickle-down economics do not work.
The candidates also debated their positions on the auto bailout. Mandel said he would not have voted for the auto bailout if he was in the Senate in 2009. In his defense, he cited the experience of Delphi workers, who lost part of their pensions as part of the deal auto companies made with workers after the federal bailout. Mandel then said, “I’m not a bailout senator. He’s the bailout senator.”
Brown responded by saying, “These are real jobs and real people.” He then cited examples of people helped by the growing auto industry. Brown’s arguments are backed by economic data, which has repeatedly credited the growing auto industry for the nation’s growing economy. In the first quarter of 2012, the auto industry was credited for half of the nation’s economic growth.
When he was asked about higher education, Brown established the key difference between the candidates in terms of economic policy. Brown said his policies in favor of government investment in higher education are about supporting the middle class to create growth that starts in the middle and spreads out, while Mandel supports tax cuts that emphasize a trickle-down approach. Mandel did not deny the claims, and instead blamed Brown’s policies for the high unemployment rate and debt issues.
The men continued to show similar contrasts on the budget, taxes and economy throughout the entire debate, but there seemed to be some common ground regarding energy independence. When the topic came to hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — Brown said becoming energy independent would have to involve all possible energy sources. In substance, Mandel agreed, although he also praised fracking regulations recently passed by the Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich.
As far as energy issues go, the agreement stopped there. When Brown was asked about President Barack Obama's alleged “war on coal,” Brown said there was no war on coal and claimed there are more coal jobs and coal produced in Ohio than there were five years ago. Mandel disagreed and claimed there is a war on coal. He added if Obama is the general in the war on coal, Brown is Obama's “lieutenant.” Brown previously supported federal regulations on mercury that some in the coal industry, including the Ohio Coal Association, claim will force coal-fired power plants to shut down. The regulations go into effect in 2015.
On abortion, Mandel proudly claimed he was pro-life, while Brown said, “Unlike Josh Mandel, I trust Ohio women to make their own health care decisions.” Brown also criticized Mandel for not establishing exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother in his anti-abortion stance.
Many more issues, from term limits to Middle Eastern culture, were covered in the debate. The candidates drew sharp contrasts in all these areas with Brown typically holding the liberal position and Mandel typically holding the conservative position. But despite the feisty language and deep policy contrasts, when the debate ended, the candidates smiled, shook hands and patted each other on the back. They will meet again in Columbus on Thursday and Cincinnati on Oct. 25.
Pro-choice groups are criticizing Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan for pulling money from Planned Parenthood and shifting federal dollars to “anti-choice” crisis pregnancy centers.
The Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan would redirect federal funding for family planning services in a way that would strip funding for Planned Parenthood and family planning providers.
During hearings at the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee today, multiple women’s health advocates, ranging from health experts to members of Planned Parenthood, said these services mostly benefit low-income women, particularly in rural areas. On the other side, representatives from anti-abortion groups spoke in support of the Ohio House Republicans’ measures, citing health care options, family values, abstinence and chastity.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, says the defunding measure has become a recurring trend for Ohio Republicans, who have taken up the Planned Parenthood measure multiple times in the past couple years. But she says the threat could have more weight this time around.
“This feels different,” Copeland says. “They’ve always kind of tried to hide it before. This time they were a lot more upfront about it. It seems like they may be willing to put political capital into this fight this time.”
A separate section of the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan redirects federal funding to a program that will fund crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which provide abstinence-only family planning services.
Some researchers have found abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health
found abstinence-only programs have no impact on rates for teenage
pregnancy or vaginal intercourse, while comprehensive programs that
include birth control education reduce rates.
A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Georgia that looked at data from 48 states concurred abstinence-only programs do not reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy. The study indicated states with the lowest teenage pregnancy rates tend to have the most comprehensive sex and HIV education programs.
Still, a 2010 study from a University of Pennsylvania researcher found abstinence-only education programs may delay sexual activity. The study, which tracked black middle school students over two years, found students in an abstinence-only program had lower rates of sexual activity than students in the comprehensive program.
Some supporters say the Ohio House Republicans’ budget measures aren’t specifically about Planned Parenthood, abortion or birth control. Instead, they argue they’re trying to establish more health care options for women.
But the providers that would be able to get more funding already apply for it; they just lose out to Planned Parenthood’s services, which are deemed superior by state officials who distribute the funds during the competitive distribution process.
Copeland says “no thinking person” should fall for the reasoning given by Republicans and supporters who say abortion is not one of their concerns.
“They’re trying to impose their morals on you,” Copeland says. “These are not health care experts. These are not people who are trying to find real solutions for the problems that real people face. These are people who want to impose their personal views, their personal morality on you.”
Some anti-abortion supporters, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, say abortion and broader cultural issues are absolutely part of the reason they support the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan.
“Our mission is to support the right to life from conception to natural death,” Leipold says. “Abortion happens to be a big problem right now because in the past 40 years it’s become part of the culture.”
She adds, “Now kids are learning that responsible sex means that you can have sex but just use birth control. That’s not supposed to be the attitude. The attitude is supposed to be that sex is for a committed relationship between a man and a woman in a marital relationship.”
During testimony today, Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, asked state legislators to support the organization’s numerous medical services, including women’s health, family planning and sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment.
Kight also said state and federal funds do not go to abortions. Planned Parenthood’s abortion services are instead funded by private donations.
At the hearings, Republican State Rep. Ron Maag asked Kight why Planned Parenthood doesn’t shut down its three abortion clinics in Ohio if those clinics are potentially threatening the “good work” Planned Parenthood does elsewhere. Kight said Planned Parenthood believes its abortion services are “good work.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) claimed in a 2011 lawsuit that the city government isn’t meeting funding requirements. A Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas motion filed Jan. 4 and accepted Jan. 23 gives the city and AFSCME until April to settle the case out of court.
By law, Cincinnati is required to heed to the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS) Board of Trustees when setting the percent of payroll the city must contribute to retirees. But the AFSCME lawsuit argues the city hasn’t been making contributions dictated by the board.
The lawsuit, which dates back to June 2011, cites minutes from a CRS Board of Trustees meeting on July 20, 2010 to show the board accepted a report from Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC. The report asked the city to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to retiree benefits — 12.32 percent to retiree health benefits and 33.9 percent to other CRS benefits — during the 2011 fiscal year.
Instead, the city biennial budget for 2011 and 2012 established a contribution rate of 17 percent — way below the recommended sum.
The AFSCME lawsuit alleges the low contributions reflect a
“longstanding pattern” from city government. It points to a 2002
report from the CRS Board of Trustees that found the city was not meeting requirements set by the board then, either.
The lawsuit asks for a court mandate requiring city government to find out how much it needs to contribute, establish a mechanism for collecting the amounts required and appropriate and contribute the required amounts.
City Solicitor John Curp says the debate is between long-term and short-term interests. On AFSCME’s side, the union wants to get as much from payroll contributions as possible for represented retirees, even if it means a short-term economic and budget shock for the city. On the city’s side, City Council is more interested in meeting long-term requirements for the pension fund, instead of keeping up with shifting annual numbers that could negatively impact the city economy and budget.
City government’s approach attempts to balance short-term and long-term needs with a long-term goal. It means the city pension is underfunded during some years, particularly when the economy is in a bad state. But it keeps rates steady, letting the city avoid sudden funding changes that would require spending cuts or tax hikes to keep the budget balanced.
By adopting a large short-term contribution rate, the city would likely hurt its budget in ways that would negatively affect city employees represented by AFSCME. If the city was forced to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to CRS — up from 17 percent — it would probably be forced to cut spending elsewhere, which would lead to layoffs.
This story was updated on Jan. 25 at 12:40 p.m. to reflect comments from City Solicitor John Curp.
Local public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting its doors for good by the end of the year, ending nearly 25 years of public service.
The organization’s demise is a result of the city eliminating funding for Media Bridges in its latest budget, which was passed by City Council in May.
“It is with great sadness that I must announce that Media Bridges will close its doors by the end of 2013. The city has made it extremely clear that we will not be receiving any more funding from them. While we have tried many other avenues for revenue it has become clear that we will be unable to sustain operations beyond 2013,” Media
Bridges Executive Director Tom Bishop announced Tuesday in the organization’s newsletter.
The shutdown will be a steady process, with Media Bridges completely closing once its channels are transferred or Dec. 13 — whichever comes first.
The city’s budget cuts were originally considered in December, but City Council managed to restore some funding to keep the organization afloat. Prior to the partial restoration, Bishop had called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget.
City officials previously defended the cuts to Media Bridges, citing city surveys that ranked the program poorly in terms of budgetary importance. For the surveys, the city used meetings and mailed questionnaires to gauge public opinion.
But Bishop claims the surveys’ demographics were lopsided against low-income Cincinnatians, the income group that benefits the most from public access programs like Media Bridges.
For both the meeting-based and mail-in surveys, Bishop’s claim checks out. His concern is even directly acknowledged and backed in the documented survey results for the meetings: “Twenty-two percent of meeting participants earned less than $23,050 per year, compared to 40.8 percent of the population at large who earn less than $24,999 per year. While this is not representative of the population at large, the data does indicate strong participation from low income residents.”
Meanwhile, wealthier Cincinnatians were much better represented, with 11 percent of meeting participants making $150,000 or more per year despite only 6 percent of the city at large belonging to that income group, according to the survey results.
The same issue can be found in the mail-in survey: Only 22 percent of respondents made less than $25,000, while 10 percent made $150,000 or more.
“It’s ridiculous that they would call that representative of the city of Cincinnati,” Bishop says.
Instead of using its skewed survey results, Bishop argues the city should have looked at the 2010 Spring Greater Cincinnati Survey from the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research. In that survey, Cincinnati respondents were asked how important it was to provide recording equipment to citizens and neighborhoods so they can “produce educational and public access programs for cable television.” About 54.3 percent called it “very important,” 33.9 percent labeled it “somewhat important” and 11.7 percent said it was “not too important.”
City officials also defended the cuts by claiming that funding was only provided as a “one-year reprieve” after Media Bridges lost state funding that came through Time Warner Cable, which successfully lobbied to end its required contributions in 2011.
Bishop disputes the city’s claim, saying Media Bridges and its staff weren’t informed that the city funding was meant to be temporary — at least until it was too late.
Media Bridges is a public access media organization founded in 1988 that
allows anyone in Cincinnati to record video and sound for publicly
broadcasted television and radio. It also provides educational programs for people new to the process.
Although Media Bridges is closing down, the city is still funding CitiCable, which, among other programming, broadcasts City Council and county commissioner meetings, through franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner.
It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.
Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.
“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.
Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.
Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.
“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.
Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.
A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.
Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.
The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating
support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and
Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts
It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.
Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.
He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.
The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.
“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”
Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.
In the past few days, local media outlets have reported heavily on a supposed conflict between Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the city of Cincinnati. Essentially, SORTA wants the transit fund limited, while the city government says it doesn’t want to “undermine the city charter” with limitations.
At its heart, the argument is a political back-and-forth with little consequence. It’s two government agencies at a small divide over legalese in an intergovernmental agreement about how the streetcar will operate and how it will be funded.
The specific issue is SORTA, which runs the Metro bus
system and will operate the streetcar, wants to include phrasing in its
agreement with the city that makes it so the transit fund can’t be used
for the streetcar. In a 7-6 vote Tuesday, SORTA's board pushed its preferred wording along with an application for an $11 million federal grant that will help fund the streetcar.
But the city government claims the limitation would go against the spirit of the city charter, which says the transit fund can be used for “public transit purposes generally and without limitation.”
UPDATE: City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar, although it has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar.
Still, Mayor Mark Mallory’s office has insisted time and time again that funding for the streetcar’s construction and operation is already allocated, so taking any money from the transit fund will be unnecessary. Specifically, the city will tap into casino revenue to operate the streetcar, on top of the $11 million federal grant.
In an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday, Mallory said the real issue goes back to an ongoing lawsuit between SORTA and the city. In 2010, the city diverted money from the transit fund to pay for street lights. That prompted a lawsuit from SORTA, asking the courts to define the limits of the transit fund.
The mayor’s office sees the wording from SORTA as an attempt from the transit agency to score a minor victory in the legal battle. If the city government accepted the wording, it would be agreeing to a limited transit fund, which is essentially what SORTA wants.
SORTA’s wording also makes it so all transit fund money will continue going to the Metro bus system, which is the agency’s sole service today.
But even SORTA says the disagreement is getting blown out of proportion by media outlets and public officials. Sallie Hilvers, spokesperson for SORTA, says the wording in the approved agreement was the board’s attempt to ensure the transit fund isn’t used for the streetcar, but, for the most part, it’s “really just procedures.”
Hilvers insisted the disagreement over wording has plenty
of time to be worked out, and it will not hinder collaboration between
the city of Cincinnati and SORTA.
The agreement will need to be worked out before summer 2013 for the streetcar to stay on track.