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by German Lopez 01.06.2014 103 days ago
Posted In: News, 2014 election, Governor, LGBT, Parking at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Tea party drops challenge to Kasich, gay marriage in 2014 election, city faces parking issues

Tea party leader Ted Stevenot won’t run against Gov. John Kasich in a Republican primary after all. The development came just four days after Stevenot announced his candidacy. Stevenot said his decision to pull out had nothing to do with his running mate’s tax problems, which The Columbus Dispatch uncovered shortly after Stevenot announced his intention to run. Stevenot’s withdrawal comes despite building tea party opposition against Kasich over his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion and his unwillingness to support anti-union “right-to-work” legislation.

The debate over same-sex marriage reached the state attorney general’s race Friday when Democratic candidate David Pepper published an online petition calling on Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop the state-sanctioned legal battle against a local gay couple. On Dec. 23, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that state officials must recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates, including the union of Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur. But the state is appealing the ruling. DeWine’s office said it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to appeal Black’s decision. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment whether he advised for or against appeal.

When Pepper and DeWine face off in the November election, same-sex marriage legalization could appear on the ballot as well — despite LGBT groups’ disagreement over the ballot initiative’s timing.

With the parking privatization plan presumably dead, Mayor John Cranley and City Council plan to address what to do with Cincinnati’s lackluster parking system in the next couple months. By all accounts, the system is broken and in need of upgrades. The question is how to fund the upgrades and leverage parking revenue so it can better finance basic services and development projects. When asked whether privatization is still on the table, Cranley says he’s only open to leasing parking garages, not parking meters, to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

Another issue looming for city officials: Their desire to structurally balance the budget without raising taxes or draconian spending cuts. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Frigid weather led area schools to close today, including the region’s public universities. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

Dayton gets a new mayor today.

Ohio was snubbed for a coveted drone testing program, much to the chagrin of state officials who are now touting partisan claims as reasons why.

Ohio gas prices dropped in time for the first full work week of 2014.

A study found no evidence of time travelers on the Internet.

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by German Lopez 01.03.2014 106 days ago
Posted In: News, 2014 election, LGBT at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
david pepper

Same-Sex Marriage Debate Reaches Attorney General Race

Pepper calls on DeWine to stop court battle against local gay couple

The debate over same-sex marriage came to the forefront of Ohio’s attorney general race after Democratic candidate David Pepper drew up an online petition calling on Attorney General Mike DeWine to drop a court battle against a local gay couple.

Pepper’s petition is in direct response to the legal battle surrounding Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who legally married in Maryland last year and won legal recognition of their marriage in Arthur’s Ohio death certificate. (Arthur passed away after suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disease that causes muscles to rapidly deteriorate.)

The case originally applied only to Obergefell and Arthur, but U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Dec. 23 cited equal protection grounds to force state officials to acknowledge gay marriages in all Ohio death certificates.

With DeWine’s office acting as the attorneys in the case, the state intends to appeal the ruling.

The attorney general’s office told CityBeat it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to decide whether to appeal the ruling. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment on whether DeWine offered legal advice for or against the appeal.

But DeWine previously defended his intention to uphold Ohio’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which voters approved in 2004.

“Our job is to defend Ohio’s constitution and defend what voters have voted on,” he told WKSU Public Radio.

In his petition, Pepper argues it’s DeWine’s duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect the local couple’s court-established marriage rights.

“What a waste of taxpayer dollars, and what a misuse of an office whose duty is to stand up to — not for — the unconstitutional treatment of Ohioans,” the petition reads.

While DeWine and Pepper will face off in the upcoming November ballot, same-sex marriage could appear on the ballot as well — despite disagreement among LGBT groups on the timing.

Pepper’s petition can be read and signed here.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.03.2014 106 days ago
Posted In: News, Abortion, 2014 election, Governor, Courts at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Abortion restrictions follow trend, more tax issues in state election, Luken to run for judge

Ohio and various other states passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they did in the previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The findings indicate that the latest Republican-backed abortion restrictions, which were passed through Ohio’s two-year state budget last June, were part of a broader trend that’s culminated across the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010. The trend could play a pivotal political role: Ohio Democrats have made their opposition to the abortion restrictions a central part of their campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents who hold top executive offices in the state.

One of the candidates expected to join the tea party ticket in a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich appears to have personal tax problems. Brenda Mack, tea party leader Ted Stevenot’s expected running mate, is linked to nearly $60,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes and penalties, according to government records in Mahoning and Cuyahoga counties analyzed by The Columbus Dispatch. Mack refuses to comment on the tax problems until a Tuesday press conference in which she and Stevenot are expected to officially announce their candidacies for the May 6 primary.

Former Mayor Charlie Luken says he will run for Hamilton County probate judge. The Democratic candidate will likely face off against Republican Ted Winkler, a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge. Luken recently garnered the public spotlight for his support for Mayor John Cranley’s campaign.

Cincinnati’s homicide rate for victims younger than 18 rose to 1 in 7 in 2013 and 2012, up from 1 in 10 from 2000 through 2011, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Four of the juvenile victims were 1-year-old or younger, including a fetus who died after the mother was strangled to death in April.

Four seats on the 19-member Ohio Board of Education remain unfilled, including two seats that have been vacant for months, long past the 30-day deadline Gov. Kasich has under state law to name a replacement. Administration officials said they’re aware of the deadline, but they intend to find the best fit for the position before moving forward with an appointment. “It’s far more important to us to find the right person than putting warm bodies on the board,” Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols told The Columbus Dispatch.

The amount of untested rape kits submitted to Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation exceeded 5,000.

Fewer than 1,000 died last year in traffic crashes across Ohio, the lowest number since the state began keeping track of the fatalities in 1936.

Bill Nye the Science Guy will debate evolution and biblical creationism at northern Kentucky’s Creation Museum on Feb. 4. Evolution is a scientific fact, but Creation Museum leader Ken Ham denies its existence.

Aaron Betsky announced yesterday he will step down as director of the Cincinnati Art Museum. The news follows Betsky’s controversial comments against the streetcar project in ArchitectMagazine.com, which Betsky expanded on in a separate blog post. CityBeat recently interviewed Betsky here.

The Cincinnati Bengals received an extension until 4 p.m. today to sell out tickets for Sunday’s game and avoid a television blackout in the Cincinnati area.

Strange lights sometimes precede earthquakes.

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by German Lopez 01.02.2014 107 days ago
Posted In: News, Abortion, Budget, Governor at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
guttmacher abortion

Ohio’s Latest Abortion Restrictions Follow Nationwide Trend

States passed more abortion restrictions in past three years than previous decade

Ohio was among various states in the nation that passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than the entire previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Between 2011 and 2013, states passed 205 new restrictions on abortion. Between 2001 and 2010, states passed only 189 new restrictions.

The trend is unsurprising for Ohio, which the Guttmacher Institute says has been “hostile to abortion” since 2000, but the timeline shows a clear shift in state policies around the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010.

Ohio’s latest restrictions were passed last June by Ohio Republicans through the two-year state budget.

Among other restrictions, one measure forces doctors to perform an external ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and tell her if a heartbeat is detected and the statistical probability of the fetus making it to birth.

Ohio and Oklahoma were also the only states in 2013 to pass restrictions on federal funding for family planning providers, the Guttmacher Institute claims.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, insist they don’t use public funds for abortions, instead funding the procedure with the help of private contributions.

But Ohio Republicans, who predominantly oppose abortion rights, went through with the restrictions anyway, ultimately hitting some family planning service providers that don’t even offer abortions.

“Members of the House who have issues with Planned Parenthood have only issues with the abortion services,” Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, told CityBeat last June. “The rest of what Planned Parenthood provides, I imagine they have no issue with whatsoever.”

Ohio Democrats, particularly gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, have made their opposition to the anti-abortion measures part of their campaigns to unseat Gov. John Kasich and other Ohio Republicans who hold top executive positions in the state. But given the Guttmacher Institute’s timeline, reversing the trend could require a radical shift in the state government of the past 14 years.


 
 
by German Lopez 01.02.2014 107 days ago
Posted In: News, LGBT, 2014 election, Governor at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_gaymarriage_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

LGBT groups debate ballot timing, Kasich gets tea party challenge, Portune's ethics disputed

Ohio’s leading LGBT groups still disagree whether same-sex marriage should appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but FreedomOhio says it’s continuing with efforts to put the issue to a public vote within a year. The debate could decide when gay couples in Ohio will get the same rights already granted to couples in other states. In its defense, FreedomOhio cites polling that shows its amendment has support from 56 percent of Ohio voters. But that same poll also put Ohioans within the margin of error — 47 percent in favor and 48 percent in opposition — on the general question of same-sex marriage legalization, which other LGBT groups point to as a sign Ohio needs more time before it’s ready.

Clermont County tea party leader Ted Stevenot will mount a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich. Stevenot has long criticized Kasich for his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which now allows anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll for Medicaid. Stevenot has also called on Kasich to support anti-union legislation commonly known as “right-to-work.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s challenge against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is off to a rough start: A former law partner said Portune isn’t “ethically … suited to be governor,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Portune on Monday announced his intent to challenge FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, despite opposition from various state Democrats.

Commentary: “What to Watch in 2014.”

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, up from a winter weather advisory, for southwest Ohio today between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The region should get 3-5 inches of snow, with most of it coming this morning and early afternoon.

Three new local homeless shelters expect to start construction in 2014.

Eighty local organizations across Ohio, including three in Hamilton County, are receiving more than $26.3 million in state funds for homeless prevention, emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing projects.

The federal government awarded Ohio $10.8 million for getting low-income children health insurance.

Check out The Onion’s best videos of 2013.

Here are the best astronomy and space pictures of 2013, according to Phil Plait of Slate.

Popular Science published its science predictions for 2014.

CityBeat is hiring a full-time associate editor. Click here for more information.

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by German Lopez 12.30.2013 110 days ago
Posted In: News, Governor, 2014 election at 04:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
toddportune

Portune Announces Bid for Governor

Democrats worry announcement could compromise gubernatorial campaign

Democrats face a potential wrinkle in their campaign to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich following Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s announcement Monday that he will run for governor of Ohio.

At a public press conference, Portune said he intends to mount a primary challenge against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who previously looked like the Democrats presumptive nominee.

In justifying his announcement, Portune claimed he had heard “some rumblings” from rank-and-file Democrats to offer more options in the governor’s race.

“This is an honest effort to give Democrats choice,” Portune said.

Some Democrats might appreciate the choice following a scandal that threw FitzGerald’s choice for lieutenant governor, State Sen. Eric Kearney, off the ticket. Kearney withdrew after multiple reports uncovered he and his family owe hundreds of thousands in unpaid taxes.

But much of the Democratic establishment seems to have responded with contempt by portraying Portune’s announcement as an unnecessary hurdle in the 2014 election.

Likening the Democratic primary election to an internal family discussion, Portune denied accusations that a primary campaign would cripple the party’s chances of winning the gubernatorial election.

“Primaries allow you to talk about the issues. They generate momentum,” he said.

Several Democrats took to social media to publicly disapprove of Portune’s announcement.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern tweeted that he’s “excited about our endorsed Democrats,” meaning FitzGerald.

Cincinnati council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld also restated on Twitter that they will support FitzGerald for governor.

“Todd Portune has been a client and someone I've admired for a long time,” Seelbach wrote. “But the last thing we need is a divisive primary.”

 
 
by German Lopez 12.30.2013 110 days ago
Posted In: News, Economy, 2014 election, Governor at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Governor’s “Ohio Miracle” Falling Far Short of Promises

Ohio was one of two states to see economy worsen in three-month index

Despite Gov. John Kasich’s claims to the contrary, the only miracle in Ohio’s economy might be how bad the state is doing compared to the rest of the nation.

The proof: Ohio’s economy was among just two states in the nation that actually worsened during September through November compared to August through October, according to the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Beyond Ohio’s borders, Alaska also worsened, two states remained stable and the rest of the nation moved in a generally positive direction.

In other words, while 46 states’ economies moved in a generally positive direction, Ohio actually got worse.

The measures come from the State Coincident Index issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia every month. The index combines several economic indicators to gauge the condition of each state’s economy. The research department then gauges whether the index improved or worsened after the latest month’s data is taken into account.

With the gubernatorial election now less than one year away, the sorry state of Ohio’s economy could prove a bad sign for Gov. Kasich’s re-election.

Kasich, a Republican, came into office as Ohio’s economy began dashing out of the Great Recession stronger than most of the nation — a trend Kasich took to calling the “Ohio miracle.”

Ed FitzGerald, Kasich’s likely Democratic challenger, has criticized the claim in the past few months as Ohio’s economy showed more signs of worsening despite Kasich’s promises that his policies would keep the state in the right direction.

One of those policies was privatizing Ohio’s development agency and effectively turning it into JobsOhio. In less than three years, the agency has been riddled in multiple scandals following accusations from Democrats that the JobsOhio board hosts various conflicts of interests and lacks transparency when recommending who should get state tax credits.

Kasich also pushed and approved an across-the-board income tax cut earlier in 2013 through the two-year state budget. But because the income tax cut came with a sales tax hike, left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s tax cut heavily favors the wealthy, which calls into question whether the tax cut will actually help Ohio’s middle class or economy.

For FitzGerald and other Democrats, the challenge is advocating a progressive agenda that stands in contrast to Kasich’s policies. Although they have plenty of criticisms, it remains unclear what Democrats could do if — as looks almost certain — Republicans continue to hold Ohio’s legislative chambers.

Then there’s the question of whether state policies matter much, if at all. Economists generally agree that state officials tend to dramatize the economic impact of their policies when much bigger factors are at play, particularly as globalization reshapes the national and global economies.

For now, one thing is clear: Kasich’s policies haven’t been enough to turn around Ohio’s sinking economy throughout the past three months.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.30.2013 110 days ago
Posted In: News, 2016 election, 2014 election, Governor, Business at 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
toddportune

Morning News and Stuff

Portune could run for governor, city could host GOP in 2016, laxer regulations draw critics

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce today whether he'll run for governor. If he decides to run, Portune will face off against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald to decide which Democrat should face off against Republican Gov. John Kasich next November. Until now, it has been widely assumed that FitzGerald would take the gubernatorial nomination without a primary challenge. But if Portune enters the race, it could lead to a primary process that could hinder Democrats' chances in a pivotal state election.

Hamilton County Republican Party officials are looking into hosting the 2016 national GOP convention in Cincinnati, but they acknowledge their bid might come in too late. The 2016 convention would put the national spotlight on Cincinnati during a presidential election year, when presumably two new presidential contenders will have been picked by Democrats and Republicans to replace President Barack Obama. Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou said Cincinnati would be a great location for the convention, given the region's electoral importance to both parties, but he wants to make sure Cincinnati actually stands a chance before using time and resources to file a formal application.

Entertainment districts allow some businesses in Walnut Hills and nine other Cincinnati neighborhoods to receive their state liquor licenses more quickly and inexpensively, but some — particularly businesses facing new competition — are worried the increasingly popular economic designation will lead to more alcohol-serving establishments than Cincinnati can sustain.

Local startup incubator SoMoLend got state hearings over allegations of fraud pushed to February and March. The once-promising crowdfunding incubator previously partnered with Cincinnati, but the city cut ties with the business once allegations of fraud surfaced.

The Ohio Department of Health warned on Friday that flu activity is increasing across the state and Ohioans should get vaccinated.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol last week launched an enhanced registry of people who have been convicted of drunk driving at least five times.

Starting Jan. 1, regulations meant to crack down on puppy mills will require licenses for dog breeders and clean cages. The legislation enforcing the new rules was approved more than a year ago to curtail Ohio's reputation of being soft on large dog breeding operations.

Ohio gas prices spiked at the end of the year.

With the year drawing to a close, check out CityBeat's top stories of 2013.

The question you probably never asked has now been answered: Can a human fall in love with a computer?

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by German Lopez 12.27.2013 113 days ago
Posted In: News, Economy, Streetcar at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar construction restarts, minimum wage hike incoming, jobless benefits to expire

Construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project restarted yesterday, marking an end to the nearly two-month drama brought on by Mayor John Cranley’s election and his threats of cancellation. City Council paused the project for a little more than three weeks to conduct an audit on its costs, but the legislative body agreed to restart construction last week after receiving a signed agreement from the Haile Foundation that the philanthropic group will provide $9 million over 10 years to help pay for $3.13-$3.54 million in annual operating costs.

An automatic increase on Ohio’s minimum wage at the start of the new year will benefit 330,000 Ohioans, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). The higher wages should translate to a better economy for all Ohioans: EPI found the automatic increase will generate nearly $39 million in economic impact and 300 full-time jobs. Since a voter-approved measure in 2006, Ohio has been among several states who peg the minimum wage to increases in the cost of living.

More than 36,000 Ohioans will lose emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed tomorrow following a lack of congressional action, according to left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio. The emergency benefits were passed by Congress at the start of the Great Recession to help those hit worse by the economic downturn, but Congress failed to extend the benefits before it recessed for the holidays despite lingering signs of a weakened economy. Without the extension, Ohioans can tap into just 26 weeks of state-provided jobless aid; federally funded emergency benefits give the unemployed another 37 weeks to find work before losing government assistance.

Here are CityBeat’s top stories of 2013.

The annual review of the two-year state budget could include income tax cuts, said Ohio’s tax chief. The statement follows Gov. John Kasich’s announced push for another income tax cut to help spur Ohio’s slowing economy. The Republican governor signed a state budget that reduced taxes — particularly for the wealthy — earlier in the year, but Ohio’s economy still slowed down in the past few months as the state unemployment rate surpassed the national rate for the first time in years.

With the Ohio Supreme Court’s rejection last week of a challenge to the state’s federally funded Medicaid expansion, conservatives are conceding the battle is “over with” for now. Gov. Kasich pursued the federally funded expansion without approval from the General Assembly by going through the seven-member Controlling Board, but Republicans, who largely opposed the expansion of a government-run health care program from the start, fought against the board’s approval in court.

Gov. Kasich was “stingy” with his clemency powers during his third year in office, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Even though a review found Cintrifuse is a “Lead Applicant with strong position within SW Ohio entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Ohio Third Frontier denied state tax credits for the local startup incubator because, according to the state review group, Cintrifuse maintains an unrealistic goal to scale to 60 tenants in its first year and lacks strategy or process for the incubator services, graduation focus, an adequate staffing plan and a defined tenant award process.

Delta briefly provided very low air fares following a technical error yesterday.

Much to scientists’ frustration, 2014 could be a bad year for the flu after the adaptive virus evolves.

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by German Lopez 12.26.2013 114 days ago
Posted In: News, Economy at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Report: Minimum Wage Increase to Benefit 330,000 Ohioans

Advocates argue minimum wage increases spur economic growth

When Ohio’s minimum wage automatically increases by 10 cents to $7.95 per hour at the start of 2014, roughly 330,000 workers will receive raises across the state, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

That could be good news for all of Ohio: EPI found the minimum wage increase will benefit the rest of the state through nearly $39 million in economic impact and 300 new full-time jobs.

“Ohio workers and the Ohio economy will both benefit from this raise for our lowest-paid neighbors,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement. “The employees who benefit will turn around and spend money in our communities, stimulating growth here.”

The automatic increase is a result of a constitutional amendment approved by Ohio voters in 2006 that hiked the minimum wage to $6.85 per hour and pegged it to rises in the cost of living.

Ohio isn’t alone in the increase, however. Policy Matters estimates 10 other states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and New Jersey — automatically increase their minimum wages each year to keep up with inflation.

The nationwide minimum wage hikes “will generate over $619 million in new economic activity and support creation of 4,600 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand,” according to Policy Matters.

The projections come at a time progressives are working on the national stage to increase the federal minimum wage, which, at $7.25 per hour, is becoming increasingly irrelevant as Congress fails to keep up with many states’ minimum wage expansions.

President Barack Obama’s Fair Minimum Wage Law would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015 and — perhaps most importantly — ensure the minimum wage increases each year to keep up with the cost of living. The left-leaning National Employment Law Project estimates the hike would help 30 million Americans and help grow the economy.

Opponents argue a minimum wage increase, especially one as rapid as Obama’s proposal, would burden businesses with considerably higher labor costs. They argue companies would drop employees or raise prices to cope with higher expenses.

Advocates typically tout a minimum wage hike as a matter of basic fairness. They claim the federal minimum wage would be $10.55 per hour today if it kept up with inflation.

Meanwhile, the economics research on the effects of the minimum wage is fairly mixed. Some studies linked higher minimum wages to less employment, while other studies found no effects at all.

 
 

 

 

by Anthony Skeens 04.09.2014 10 days ago
Posted In: News at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
transparency map

Ohio Ranks Poorly in Government Transparency

Options for tracking government spending rank higher than only four states in the U.S.

Ohio scored fifth-worst in a nationwide government transparency survey conducted by a national consumer group focused on investigating and advocating for American citizens against powerful interest groups.

The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report. 

“Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.”

Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches. Ohio’s poor score follows three years of ranking in the bottom half of the study.  

Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats. 

The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago. 

Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues. 

Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website.

“We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 04.02.2014 17 days ago
Posted In: News at 12:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
otr

OTR Foundation to Host Property Rehabilitation Series

Workshops intend to educate potential homeowners on purchasing and rehab processes

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation will host a series of upcoming workshops aimed at educating people interested in downtown living on how to rehabilitate properties.

Part of the nonprofit’s mission is to engage community members in the neighborhood’s future as a compliment to larger development companies’ efforts, which have largely shaped the neighborhood’s resurgence in recent years. This effort is specifically targeting those interested in moving to OTR, the Brewery District or Pendleton. 

“Lots of people are really interested and excited about the idea of rehabbing one of the buildings to live-in in Over-the-Rhine,” says Marilyn Hyland, a board trustee for OTR Foundation. “Then they get into it and find it’s really complicated. This is an opportunity for people of both professional and personal perspectives to help people who really want to do this with their families and to have the wisdom of experience as they go forward with it themselves.”

The first of the three workshops — which take place at the Art Academy of Cincinnati on Jackson Street — will take place on April 12 and include a lecture from owners who rehabbed their homes, followed by an optional tour of renovated homes.

A second workshop on May 10 delves into selecting and purchasing a building, working with various contractors, hidden costs and navigating planning, zoning and other regulations. A third on June 14 dives into the financial aspect of renovation.

People can register for the workshop series by going to otrfoundation.org. The cost goes up from $35 to $50 starting April 4. Space is limited and will close once 80 people have registered.

“We as a foundation are committed to revitalizing the diverse OTR neighborhood, and a key objective is building community by encouraging and promoting owner-occupied development,” Kevin Pape, OTR Foundation president, said in a statement. “These workshops will help individuals gain access to the resources, expertise, and development tools needed to ensure the success of their community investments.”

More information is available at otrfoundation.org/3OTR.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.24.2014 26 days ago
at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
colerain-twp-seal

Colerain Oil Pipe Back in Operation as Cleanup Continues

A pipeline that burst in a Colerain nature preserve last week spilling thousands of gallons of oil is back in operation after crews repaired a 5-inch-long crack in the bottom of the pipe.

Colerain Township Fire Department Captain Steven Conn says officials shut the pipe down shortly after the spill on March 17 and have temporarily repaired the crack. The entire pipe, which runs through the Glen Oak Nature Preserve, will eventually be replaced.

“Eventually they will come back in, stop production and remove that section of piping according to their plan,” Conn says. 

The cause of the crack remains unclear, and a Department of Transportation investigation will take weeks to test the pipe for any chemicals that could have caused a crack.

Crews cleaned up about 20,000 gallons of oil so far and anticipate cleaning for another five to six days. The preserve will remain closed, along with the nearby Obergiesing Soccer Complex, until a command center for officials working on the leak is relocated. Representatives from Sunoco Logistics, Mid-Valley Piping Company, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colerain Township and Hamilton County Parks will utilize the command center as they respond to the mess.

Twenty-four small animals have been treated after being covered in oil, and a wildlife organization from Delaware came to Cincinnati to help oil-soaked animals.

Officials say there are no reports of oil leaking into the Great Miami River. Conn says the area will be tested and monitored for at least a year after the cleanup is complete.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.21.2014 29 days ago
at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enroll

Health Insurance Deadline Approaching

Local organizations available to help people sign up ahead of March 31 deadline

Enroll America, a nonprofit designed to help citizens who are uninsured wade through the insurance process, stopped by Cincinnati on Monday during a four-city Ohio tour meant to educate citizens on their health insurance options ahead of a March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage.

The Get Covered America campaign visited the Word of Deliverance Ministries for the World and WLWT, where it held a phone drive to help people sign up for health coverage.

“We have been particularly reaching out to young folks,” says Trey Daly, Ohio’s director for Enroll America.

Those who are uninsured making more than $16,200 a year or families of four making more than $32,913 have until the end of this month to sign up for coverage or face penalties.

One major source of information locally is the Freestore Foodbank on Liberty Street, which received federal grants to help with outreach and the enrollment process. Many people coming through the Foodbank, however, already qualify for Medicaid — individuals earning less than $16,200 and families of four bringing in less than $32,913 — which doesn't have a set deadline to apply. 

Next Tuesday, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College will host a free health insurance workshop. Enroll America's website lists other informational events offering details about the process and an online calculator that provides estimates of how much an insurance premium would cost, along with other insurance-finding tools. Local centers are also offering one-on-one help and can be found at enrollamerica.org or healthcare.gov. 

On Wednesday, Ryan Luckie, team leader for the Affordable Care Act at the foodbank, worked from Mercy Hospital in Anderson, where he said there was consistent traffic.

“It’s now picking up as we approach March 31,” Luckie says.

The centers are typically on a first-come first-serve basis, but there is also an option to call ahead to schedule an appointment.  Those still seeking health insurance after March 31 will have to wait until Nov. 15 when open enrollment begins, Luckie says. Those people who have experienced what’s known as a “life event," either loss of employment, recently married or recently birthed a child, may have their deadline extended, Luckie says.

People seeking help with their insurance should bring proof of income for the last 30 days and social security numbers and date of birth for everyone seeking coverage within a household.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.18.2014 32 days ago
Posted In: 2014 election, Governor, Taxes at 03:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Lt. Governor Candidate Blasts Kasich's Tax Cut Proposal

Sharen Neuhardt says Kasich's claim to be helping women is "despicable and wrong"

Lt. Governor-candidate Sharen Neuhardt held a press conference on the City Hall front steps today to lament a tax cut proposed by Gov. John Kasich, claiming that it furthers his agenda to help Ohio’s top 1 percent.

Kasich has proposed to cut income tax 8.5 percent across the board by 2016, which would help drive Ohio’s top tax rate below 5 percent. The governor claims single mothers making $30,000 would save an extra few hundred dollars on taxes every year as part of his proposed tax cut, a claim Neuhardt called “despicable and wrong.”

During the press conference, Neuhardt said Kasich is using the plight of single mothers to propagate a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s upper echelon.

“I want to really emphasize pay equality is always an important issue,” Neuhardt said.

Neuhardt doesn’t have a plan to square the $11,600 pay disparity between genders in 2012 that she cites, but she did say that her administration would need to reverse everything Kasich’s administration has done in order to get Ohio’s economy moving forward, should she and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald, win office in November. 

“We need Ohio’s working class to have money in their pocket,” Neuhardt said.

Kasich’s previous budget took the first steps toward pushing the state’s top tax rate below 5 percent by lowering income tax across the board and raising sales tax, a combination that disproportionately favors the wealthy. CityBeat covered that plan here and Kasich’s early 2013 budget proposals here and here.

Council members P.G. Sittenfield and Yvette Simpson spoke about pay disparity before Neurhardt took the podium on Tuesday.

Simpson stated women on average are earning 27 percent less than men in Ohio and Latin American women are earning 57 percent less.

“In the year 2014, that’s unacceptable,” Simpson said.

She also stated that Cincinnati has a 50-percent single mother rate and that 53 percent of children are living in poverty.

Sittenfield said the way toward eliminating pay disparity is through “meaningful reforms,” not tax cuts.

“Wage equality is not just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue and it’s an Ohio issue,” Sittenfield said.

Kasich proposed the cuts as part of a mid-biennium review intended to lay out administrative goals for next year.

 
 
by Anthony Skeens 03.12.2014 38 days ago
at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

City to Continue Using Green Energy

Council support changes city manager's mind about going back to fossil fuels

Interim City Manager Scott Stiles today announced his intention to keep Cincinnati’s electricity green after City Councilman Chris Seelbach rallied a majority of council to oppose Stiles’ earlier plan to go back to using conventional fossil fuels to light and heat the city.

Instead, Cincinnati will continue using 100-percent renewable-backed energy from First Energy Solutions.

The city signed on with First Energy in 2012, making Cincinnati the largest metropolitan are in the country to use 100-percent renewable energy.

Stiles was expected to sign the three-year contract with First Energy Solutions today, according to city spokeswoman Meg Olberding.

Sellbach and other council members convinced Stiles to change his mind about the contract, Olberding says.

She also added that First Energy told Stiles it would allow any customer who wants to save the additional $5.63 annual savings of conventional energy to opt-out of the green energy agreement.

The green energy plan is estimated to save customers $43.58 compared Duke’s standard service.

About 65,000 households and small businesses will continue using First Energy unless they choose to retain another energy supplier.

Stiles will also institute a green energy fee of $.006 on each electric bill as part of a program he’s developing that will help local business owners and residents equip their homes or offices with energy-saving solutions. The program will be run by the Office of Environment and Sustainability.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.07.2014 43 days ago
Posted In: News, Drugs, Voting, Development, Mayor at 10:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting agreement sought, downtown project scrutinized, drug abuse reportedly drops

Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”

With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.

A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.

Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.

To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.

Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.

Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat. After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.

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by German Lopez 03.06.2014 44 days ago
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Downtown project gets path forward, feds to pay for firefighters, health board defies mayor

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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by German Lopez 03.05.2014 45 days ago
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Anti-P&G protesters face court, 3CDC to resolve project, mayor denies politics in board pick

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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by German Lopez 03.04.2014 46 days ago
Posted In: News, Development, Budget, City Council, Mayor at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Morning News and Stuff

Mayor blocks downtown development, city leaders push for Google Fiber, budget gap grows

Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.

Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”

Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.

Commentary:Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.

Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.

Kathy Wilson:Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.

At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Headline:Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”

“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

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