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by German Lopez 02.19.2014 62 days ago
Posted In: News, Energy, Health, Pensions at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Local infant deaths remain high, pension fixes proposed, Seitz renews anti-efficiency efforts

Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s infant mortality rates dropped to record lows in 2013, but the city and county’s rates of infant deaths remain far above the national average. Over the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the national average in 2011 was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative initiative formed in 2013, pointed to three possible factors to explain the troubling rates: short time between pregnancies, maternal smoking during pregnancy and poor sleeping habits, including deaths that could be easily prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman yesterday proposed fixes for Cincinnati’s ailing pension system, and the proposal includes a hit to city retirees’ benefits. Unique to Smitherman’s plan is a new $100 million commitment to help shore up the city’s unfunded liability of $870 million, but Smitherman could not say where council would get that much money. Otherwise, the proposal would freeze cost of living increases in the system for three years and reduce future cost of living increases from a 3 percent compounded rate to a 2 percent fixed rate, among other changes. Smitherman hopes to get up-or-down votes on his plan within the next two weeks, even if it requires splitting the plan into multiple parts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz plans to renew his efforts in the Ohio legislature to dismantle the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. Seitz says “devastating testimony” in support of his bill should invigorate a push for his plan. But the testimony will apparently be based off a flawed industry-financed report released yesterday. A separate study, based on an economic model from the Ohio State University, found Ohio’s energy standards will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Cincinnati plans to begin marketing an 18-acre plot of land in Lower Price Hill to bring 400 jobs to the struggling neighborhood. After the city finishes environmental remediation this month, it hopes to put the property on the market. CityBeat previously covered some of Lower Price Hill’s struggles with poverty in further detail here.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald tightened from seven points in November to five points this month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. But the survey did not include Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl as a choice — an omission that could work to Kasich’s favor in the polling results.

Gay families are being excluded from Obamacare benefits in Ohio and other states in which same-sex marriage is not recognized. That means Ohio’s gay families can’t get financial benefits going to traditional families to help them get covered. President Barack Obama’s administration says it’s aware of the issue, but it doesn’t plan a fix until next year.

Some Ohio lawmakers want an investigation into Kasich’s administration after documents showed his administration planning to work with oil and gas companies to promote fracking in state parks and forests. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

Bad news: A Chinese firm won’t bring an $80 million project to the Cincinnati area after all.

An Ohio driver rescued a kitten found frozen on the road.

A parasite commonly found in cats can now be found in arctic beluga whales. Scientists say melting ice barriers — a symptom of climate change — explains the pathogen’s increased migration.

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by German Lopez 01.10.2014 102 days ago
Posted In: News, Pensions, Human trafficking, Budget, Prisons at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City looks at railroad sale, sex trafficking mapped, youth prisons combat sexual assault

Councilman Charlie Winburn, City Council’s new budget and finance chair, suggested selling the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to help pay for the city’s $870 million unfunded pension liability. But other city officials, including Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and Councilwoman Amy Murray, voiced doubts about the idea, saying it would cost the city annual revenue when there are other options for fixing the pension problem. Meanwhile, the city and state’s retirement boards appear to be looking into what it would take to merge Cincinnati’s pension system into the state system, although that solution could face political and legal hurdles.

A new report from The Imagine Foundation found sex trafficking in the Cincinnati area follows the region’s spine on I-75 from Florency, Ky., to Sharonville, I-275 through Springfield and Fairfield and I-74 to Batesville, Ind. “This is real,” foundation Executive Director Jesse Bach told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “There are women and girls who are being bought and sold for sex in the Cincinnati area. The average person needs to take responsibility for what they might see. To use a sports adage, the average citizen has to be willing to say, ‘Not in our house.’ ”

Gov. John Kasich and other state officials yesterday launched a public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking in Ohio at HumanTrafficking.Ohio.gov. “We may not want to admit it — it’s almost too horrific to imagine — but the fact is that human trafficking is real and is happening across Ohio. Over the past two years we’ve improved our laws to fight trafficking and begin getting victims the help they need, but we must do more,” Kasich said in a statement.

In light of the public awareness campaign, some activists say human trafficking should be addressed by going after the source of demand: men.

The head of the Ohio Department of Youth Services told a federal panel that his agency responded quickly and aggressively to reports of high sexual assault rates at the state’s juvenile-detention facilities. A June report found three of Ohio’s facilities had sexual assault rates of 19 percent or above, with the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility estimated at 30.3 percent — the second highest rate in the nation. Since the report, the agency increased training, hired a full-time employee devoted to the Prison Rape Elimination Act and installed a tip line for prisoners, their families and staffers, according to Director Harvey Reed.

A northern Kentucky man was the first flu death of the season, prompting some tips from the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

Some national Democrats see Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld as a potential congressional candidate in 2022, assuming the next round of redistricting makes the First Congressional District more competitive for Democrats. The district used to be fairly moderate, but state Republicans redrew it to include Republican stronghold Warren County in the last round of redistricting.

Billions of health-care dollars helped sustain Cincinnati’s economy during the latest economic downturn, a new study found.

Downtown traffic came to a crawl this morning after burst pipes sent water gushing out of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel.

The U.S. economy added a measly 74,000 jobs in December in a particularly weak end to 2013.

Dayton Daily News: “Five things you need to know about butt selfies.”

If the law catches up, robot ships could soon become reality.

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by German Lopez 10.25.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Prisons, Privatization, Voting at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Few local contributions to Issue 4, private prison mired in violence, Ohio could limit voting

Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24. Of the more than $231,000 raised for Issue 4 by Cincinnati for Pension Reform, $229,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio, and Virginia. Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and a long-time tea party activist involved in a few of the listed groups, is also based in West Chester. City leaders unanimously oppose Issue 4 because they argue it would force the city to cut services and city employees’ retirement benefits — two claims that have been backed by studies on Issue 4. Supporters say Issue 4 is necessary to help fix the pension system’s $862 unfunded liability. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat that City Council will take up further reforms to address the unfunded liability after the election, assuming voters reject Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

A re-inspection of the privatized Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) found that, while the private prison has made some improvements in rehabilitation, health services and staffing, it remains on pace in 2013 to match the previous year’s increased levels of violence. Various state reports found the facility quickly deteriorated after it became the first state prison to be sold to a private company, Corrections Corporation of America, in 2011, under the urging of Gov. John Kasich. In particular, inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults rapidly rose between 2010 and 2012 and appear to remain at similar increased levels in 2013, according to an audit conducted on Sept. 9 and 10 by Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, Ohio’s independent prison watchdog. CityBeat previously covered the deteriorating conditions at LECI in further detail here.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted advocated trimming the amount of early voting days in a letter to the state legislature yesterday. Husted says he wants the rules passed to establish uniformity across all Ohio counties. But Democrats — including State Sen. Nina Turner, who is set to run against Husted in 2014 for secretary of state — say the measures attempt to limit voting opportunities and suppress voters. In 2012, Doug Preisse, close adviser to Gov. Kasich and chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, explained similar measures that limit early voting in an email to The Columbus Dispatch: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Husted’s suggestions also included measures that would allow online voter registration and limit ballot access for candidates in minor political parties.

A Hamilton County judge yesterday dismissed another legal challenge against the city’s parking plan, but the conservative group behind the legal dispute plans to appeal. The plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which would then use private operators to manage the assets. Supporters say the lease is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets for an $85 million upfront payment that would help pay for development projects. Opponents argue it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets to private entities.

Several Medicaid overhaul bills began moving in the Ohio House yesterday, following months of work and promises from Republican legislators. The bills increase penalties for defrauding the state, require the Department of Medicaid to implement reforms that seek to improve outcomes and emphasize personal responsibility, and make specific tweaks on minors obtaining prescriptions, hospitals reporting of neonatal abstinence syndrome, behavioral health services and other smaller categories. The overhaul bills follow Gov. Kasich’s decision to bypass the Ohio legislature and expand Medicaid eligibility for at least two years with federal funds approved by the Controlling Board, an obscure seven-member legislative panel.

Ohio’s controversial facial-recognition program can be used by some federal and out-of-state officials, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search state databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. Shortly after the program was revealed, Gov. Kasich compared it to privacy-breaching national intelligence agencies.

Ohio students aren’t as good at math and science as students in China, Japan, Korea and Singapore, among other countries.

A bipartisan “open container” bill would allow cities, including Cincinnati, to legalize drinking alcohol in the streets. In the case of Cincinnati, the city could allow public drinking in up to two districts if the bill passed. Supporters of the bill say it would boost economic activity in certain areas, but some are concerned the bill will enable “trash and rowdiness.”

Cincinnati leads the way on Twitter.

Vitamin B2, which is commonly found in cottage cheese, green veggies and meat, could be used to 3-D print medical implants.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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by German Lopez 10.24.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Pensions at 03:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tea party pensions

Few Local Contributions to Issue 4 Campaign

Financial disclosures show mostly out-of-town contributions to pension privatization effort

Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24.

The report confirms concerns previously raised by city officials, unions and mayoral and City Council candidates: The pension privatization effort is coming from outside Cincinnati and, in some instances, Ohio.

Up to Oct. 16, Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which successfully placed Issue 4 on the ballot, received more than $231,000 from campaign contributors. Of that money, $209,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio — organizations called Jobs and Progress Fund, A Public Voice, Ohio 2.0 and Ohio Rising — and $20,000 came from the Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund, which CityBeat previously reported as an early supporter of pension privatization schemes around the country.

Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and long-time tea party activist, is also based in West Chester. He’s blogged about his involvement in Ohio Rising and Ohio 2.0, and he helped create the Cincinnati Tea Party and Ohio Liberty Coalition, another tea party group.

Upon receiving the contributions, Cincinnati for Pension Reform used more than $215,000 to circulate petitions, email blasts, advertisements and other typical campaign expenses.

The infusion of cash from out-of-town sources also helps explain why Cincinnati for Pension Reform managed to mobilize its efforts so quickly and without the knowledge of many city officials, who previously said they’re bewildered by the effort and don’t know where it came from.

If approved by voters, Issue 4 would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to and manage individual retirement accounts, which would also be supported by a proportional match from the city. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move from a public plan and instead imitate a 401k plan that’s often seen in the private sector.

The conservative Buckeye Institute, which supports Issue 4, previously studied the proposal and found it could greatly reduce retirement benefits for city employees. Although the Buckeye Institute’s report claims Issue 4 could ultimately save Cincinnati money, it was laced with caveats that could actually lead to higher costs for the city.

Another study from a finance professor at Xavier University found Issue 4, if approved, could force the city to cut services, excluding police and firefighters, by up to 41 percent or increase taxes by a similar amount in the near term by mandating that the city more expediently pay off the current pension system’s $862 million unfunded liability.

A major concern for critics of Issue 4 is that it could cost the city its Social Security exemption. Under the current pension system, the city doesn’t have to pay into Social Security. If Issue 4 passes, the city’s contributions to the pension system might not be generous enough to keep the exemption, which could force the city to make costly Social Security payments.

And if the city doesn’t lose its exemption, city workers would be left with an individual retirement plan that wouldn’t have the safety net of Social Security — unlike private-sector workers who get both an individual retirement account and Social Security.

Supporters of Issue 4 dismiss the criticisms. They say that Issue 4 is necessary to address Cincinnati’s large unfunded pension liability, which credit ratings agency Moody’s cited as one of the reasons it downgraded the city’s bond rating in July.

The city’s leaders, who unanimously oppose Issue 4, say they are working on solving the liability, but they argue it’s better to reform the system, not scrap it altogether.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat that pension issues for current city employees are covered by reforms passed in 2011, and she says City Council will take up further reforms to address the unfunded liability after the election in November.

Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

The full financial report:


Updated with more information Chris Littleton and the involved groups.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.14.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, 2013 Election at 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Thousands of Early Voters to Get New Ballots

Ohio Supreme Court forces board to change ballot language for pension amendment

More than 3,000 Cincinnatians who already voted early will get new ballots in the mail after an Ohio Supreme Court decision forced the Hamilton County Board of Elections to change the ballot language for Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system.

It remains unclear whether the early voters, who represent roughly 1.5 percent of registered Cincinnati voters, will have their old votes for or against Issue 4 counted if they fail to send in a new ballot with the new language. The board will decide on that issue after hearing back from state officials and reviewing election law, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Oct. 10 upheld most of the ballot language for Issue 4, including portions that claim the amendment could lead to higher taxes and cut city services. But the court also ordered the Board of Elections to add language describing how much Cincinnati can contribute to retirement accounts under the new system and how the amendment will affect future retirees.

The court’s decision came after the Board of Elections received more than 3,000 ballots from early voters. Those voters will now get new ballots with revised language for Issue 4.

Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the tea party group behind Issue 4, sued the Board of Elections to get the ballot language changed. The organization complained that the ballot language included speculation not included in the actual city charter amendment, but the Supreme Court ultimately allowed the language to remain.

Krisel says the original ballot language was suggested by the city, approved by the board and signed off by Ohio’s secretary of state.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court asked the board to add new sections, Krisel notes the additions have very little to do with the tax and spending portions that led Cincinnati for Pension Reform to sue in the first place. The court’s ruling instead took issue with how the board used its discretion on other issues.

If approved by voters, the charter amendment would move future city employees into individual retirement accounts similar to 401k plans that are common in the private sector. Currently, the city pools pension funds into a public system and manages the investments through an independent board.

City officials and other opponents of Issue 4 argue the amendment could increase costs and cut benefits for city employees. Both the concerns were acknowledged in a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute, even though the think tank actually backs Issue 4.

Supporters of Issue 4 argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability, which reached $862 million in 2013 after the city underfunded the pension system for years and economic downturns shrunk investments financing the system. Moody’s named the liability as one of the reasons it downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating.

City officials acknowledge the enormous financial problems posed by the unfunded pension liability, but they say it would be better to make reforms within the system instead of scrapping it altogether.

City Council passed reforms in 2011 that address future costs, and council is expected to take up reforms that address the unfunded liability after the November election, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat.

Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.11.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Pensions, Drugs at 09:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Pension language mostly upheld, Cranley rejects COAST, Ky. group criticizes housing facility

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld most of the controversial ballot language for Issue 4 — the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system — but the court also concluded that the Hamilton County Board of Elections must add language about how much the city can contribute to the new retirement accounts. The amendment would require future city employees to contribute to and manage individual 401k-style retirement accounts, instead of placing them under the current pension system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. Voters will make the final decision on the amendment on Nov. 5, although some already voted early on ballots that included the full controversial language. CityBeat analyzed the amendment — and how it could reduce benefits for city employees and raise costs for the city — in further detail here.

Mayoral candidate John Cranley says he would reject and doesn’t want an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group formed in 1999 with a history of anti-LGBT causes. The response came just two days after COAST on Oct. 8 tweeted that it supported — but not endorsed — Cranley and council candidates Amy Murray, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn for a “change of direction.” In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member, called on all candidates to reject COAST’s support because the conservative group’s most public members previously opposed LGBT rights and backed efforts to make it illegal for the city to deem gays and lesbians a protected class in anti-discrimination statutes.

A historic preservation society in Ludlow, Ky., is attempting to block a transitional housing facility that provides low-cost housing for recovering addicts as they get their lives back in order. Even though the facility’s two buildings aren’t designated as “historic,” the Ludlow Historic Society wrote in an email that it’s “concerned because we are striving to maintain and improve our housing stock in Ludlow, and especially make the city a desirable place for young people to own their homes and raise their families.” There’s not much information on the ripple effect transitional housing has on communities, but a 2010 study found residents of transitional housing were achieving significant improvement or total abstinence.

Ohio officials are considering rules that would allow oil and gas drillers to store fracking wastewater in lagoons the size of football fields then recycle the wastewater for further use. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves, but the technique produces potentially toxic wastewater that has to be deposited or recycled somewhere. CityBeat covered fracking and the environmental controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

A state senator proposed a bill that attempts to keep the monthly per-member growth of Medicaid costs at 3 percent or lower, down from the current projections of 4.6 percent. But the bill doesn’t specify how it would reach the savings required and instead calls on the legislature and state administration to find a solution. The bill also doesn’t take up the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade.

A national reporting project will track the accessibility of Plan B, or the “morning-after pill,” now that emergency contraception is a court-upheld right for all women of childbearing age.

The death of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man convicted of holding three women captive and raping them for a decade, may have been caused by autoerotic asphyxiation, not suicide.

Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she got a double mastectomy may have inspired more Cincinnati women to seek a cancer screening.

Scientists discovered an exoplanet whose mass is 26 percent water. In comparison, Earth is only 0.023 percent water, by mass, according to Popular Science.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.03.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Drugs, Energy at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Pension proposal could reduce benefits, energy bill contested, needle exchanges approved

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Local business groups, unions, progressive organizations, the mayor and all council members are united against a tea party-backed ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, and a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute helps explain the opposition. The report echoes concerns from both sides: It finds new employees would have their benefits cut by one-third under the tea party’s proposed system, but it also shows that, when measured differently, Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability might currently stand at $2.57 billion, more than three times the $862 million estimate city officials typically use. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees contribute to and manage their own individual retirement accounts; under the current system, the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move workers from a public system to private, 401k-style plans. Voters will decide on the amendment when it appears on the ballot as Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

Environmental and business groups argued in front of the Ohio Senate yesterday that a new deregulatory bill would effectively gut Ohio’s energy efficiency standards and hurt the state’s green businesses, but the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), claims it’s “not as loosey-goosey” as environmental and business groups make it seem. The biggest point of contention: Seitz’s bill would allow utility companies to count energy savings that are seen as “business as usual” toward energy efficiency standards. That, green groups argue, would let businesses claim they’re becoming more energy efficient without making any real energy-efficiency investments. It could also cost Ohioans more money: A previous report from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition found the bill could increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s bill in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the deregulatory attempts here.

The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that expands local authority to pursue needle-exchange programs that would provide clean needles to drug addicts. Supporters of the bill say it would help local communities reduce drug-related infections and perhaps drug addiction, but opponents claim it surrenders to drug pushers by enabling more drug activity. A 2004 study from the World Health Organization found “a compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” CityBeat covered the war on drugs and the changing approach to combating Ohio and the nation’s drug problems in further detail here.

Some help for voting: “2013 City Council Candidates at a Glance.”

The Cincinnati Bengals want a new high-definition scoreboard that could cost county taxpayers $10 million. But taxpayers don’t have much of a choice in the matter; the stadium lease requires taxpayers purchase and install new technology, including a scoreboard, at the Bengals’ request once the technology is taken up at 14-plus other NFL stadiums.

Women gathered at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday to protest measures in the recently passed state budget that restrict access to legal abortions and defund family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood. CityBeat covered the state budget, including the anti-abortion restrictions, in further detail here.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio says Republican legislators should forget their fight against Obamacare and instead focus on a deficit-reduction package. Republicans helped cause a federal government shutdown by only passing budget bills that weaken Obamacare, but Democrats have refused to negotiate over the health care law, which is widely viewed as President Barack Obama’s legacy-defining domestic policy. Meanwhile, Obamacare’s online marketplaces opened on Tuesday, allowing participants to compare and browse subsidized private insurance plans. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote them in further detail here.

The $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project will require tolls, according to a study released by Kentucky and Ohio transportation officials on Thursday. Officials at every level of government have been pursuing a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge as concerns mount over its economy-damaging inadequacies.

A $26 million residential and retail development project is coming just north of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works is using an extra layer of ultraviolet disinfection treatment to make local water cleaner.

The second round of Ohio’s job training program offers $30 million to help businesses train workers so they can remain competitive without shedding employees.

“Project Censored” analyzes the stories the mainstream media failed to cover in the past year. Check the list out here.

A new study found eye contact makes people less likely to agree with a persuasive argument, especially if they’re skeptical in the first place.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.30.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, News, Pensions, Health care at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting tomorrow, Obamacare enrollment to open, pension amendment cuts benefits

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and CityBeat may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections begins tomorrow. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Tomorrow is also the first day of open enrollment at Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which can be found at www.healthcare.gov. At the marketplaces, an Ohio individual will be able to buy a middle-of-the-pack health insurance plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Starting in 2014, most Americans — with exemptions for religious and economic reasons, the imprisoned and those living outside the country — will be required to buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Organizations from around the state and country will be working over the next six months to help insure as many Ohioans and Americans as possible, but some of those efforts have been obstructed by Republican legislators who oppose the president’s signature health care law, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the federal government is nearing a shutdown because of Republican opposition to Obamacare, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup.

A report from the conservative Buckeye Institute echoes claims made by both sides in Cincinnati’s pension debate: A tea party-backed amendment, if approved by voters, would reduce retirement benefits for new city employees by one-third. At the same time, the city’s unfunded pension liability might be $2.57 billion, or three times what officials currently estimate. The amendment would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system by forcing future city employees to contribute to and manage their own individual retirement accounts, which would imitate private 401k plans commonly seen in the private sector. Under the current system, the city pools pension funds and manages the public system through an independent board. The pension amendment is backed by tea party groups, some of who may reside outside Cincinnati and Ohio, and will appear on the ballot as Issue 4.

To celebrate early voting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, will name her vice mayor today. Qualls is expected to select Councilman Wendell Young. Cranley and Qualls are both Democrats, but they’re heavily divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The mayoral candidates mostly focused on the two issues in their first post-primary mayoral debate, which CityBeat covered here.

Jeffrey Blackwell, Cincinnati’s new police chief, starts on the job today. He’s replacing former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown of Detroit. The city has praised Blackwell for his 26 years at the Columbus Division of Police, where he reached out to youth and immigrants, advanced the use of technology, worked closely with community members and helped reduce operating costs.

Cincinnati Councilwoman Pam Thomas today announced that she’s introducing a motion to hire a 40-member police recruit class. The motion addresses a drop in the amount of Cincinnati police officers in recent years: Staffing levels since the last recruit class have dropped by 15.2 percent, according to Thomas’ office. “Our police staffing levels are dangerously low,” Thomas said in a statement. “We cannot afford to sacrifice our public’s safety by not hiring this recruit class.” In this year’s budget, the city managed to prevent cutting public safety jobs by slashing other city services, including city parks. But Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan argues that Cincinnati’s public safety forces, which are proportionally larger than most comparable cities, need to be “rightsized” and reduced over time.

The amount of local children and teens going to the hospital with a concussion massively increased between 2002 and 2011, and the number is expected to increase further because state law now requires medical clearance to continue playing sports after a concussion.

Ohio gas prices are back below the national average.

AdvancePierre Foods, Cincinnati's largest private company, got a new CEO.

Earth may have stolen its moon from Venus.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.27.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions at 04:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Report: Pension Amendment Would Reduce Benefits

Conservative group finds city’s pension liability could be three times current estimate

A Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute echoes claims made by both sides in Cincinnati’s pension debate: A tea party-backed amendment, if approved by voters on Nov. 5, would reduce retirement benefits for new city employees by one-third. At the same time, the city’s unfunded pension liability might be three times what officials currently estimate.

The Buckeye Institute’s summary of the report vaguely supports the tea party-backed amendment and touts its benefits, but the details and findings in the report are much more mixed.

The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to and manage individual retirement accounts, which would also be supported by a proportional match from the city. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move from a public plan and instead imitate a 401k plan that’s often seen in the private sector.

Opponents of the amendment say it would massively reduce city benefits and actually increase costs for the city — two issues that the Buckeye Institute’s report acknowledges as real possibilities.

Officials are also concerned that the city would be forced to pay into Social Security, which would impose additional costs, if the tea party-backed system isn’t exempt from the federal retirement program. The current pension system absolves the city government from paying into Social Security.

Supporters of the amendment say the drastic changes are necessary to help solve the city’s growing pension liability, which city officials put at $862 million.

The Buckeye Institute report argues that even the city estimates are too low. When pricing the city’s pension liabilities through fair market value — a measure widely embraced by economists — the unfunded costs actually stand at $2.57 billion. That puts the pension system at 35 percent funding, which means the city will have to make up the 65-percent hole with extra payments.

But the report also confirms a key claim for the amendment’s opposition: Future city employees would get about one-third less benefits under the tea party’s proposed system than they would under the current pension system.

The benefit reductions should save Cincinnati $19.7 million a year, according to the report. But the savings estimate doesn’t consider cost-of-living adjustments, which the report says will rise for future employees and shrink savings over time. The estimate also assumes the tea party’s proposed system will be able to keep Cincinnati’s Social Security exemption, which city officials say is unlikely.

Despite the reductions, the Buckeye Institute claims the final benefits will be better than comparable 401k plans in the private sector, but the assumption hinges on the city meeting its full contribution to employees’ individual retirement accounts. The tea party amendment allows — but it doesn’t require — the city to contribute up to 9 percent of an employee’s salary to retirement accounts. The city contributes only 2 percent of payroll under the current system, which is already strained for costs.

The report also acknowledges that, if interpreted a certain way, the tea party amendment could force the city to pay for its unfunded pension liability in just 10 years, down from 30 years. Paying the liability that quickly could prove unmanageable for a city that hasn’t passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001.

The pension amendment is backed by tea party groups, some of which may reside outside of Cincinnati and Ohio. They argue the reform is necessary to stabilize the city-funded retirement system.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati for Pension Responsibility announced its formation on Sept. 27 and promised to get voters to oppose a “risky plan” that “could cost taxpayers millions.” Mayor Mark Mallory, all current council members, the AFL-CIO, ProgressOhio and other groups have joined the opposition.

Opponents readily acknowledge the current system’s problems and unfunded liability, but they argue the city would be better off making reforms within the current system instead of adopting the tea party’s plan. Some of those reforms are expected to come before City Council in the next couple months.

Voters will make the final decision on the tea party’s pension amendment when it appears as Issue 4 on the Nov. 5 ballot.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Poverty, Pensions at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative

Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied" childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center, but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.

The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees, such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much less a $5,000 car allowance.

The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.

State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.

The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.

An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.

A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.

Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.

Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.

 
 

 

 

 
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