By the time a new mayor and City Council candidates take office in December, the city will have laid out roughly half a mile of track and spent or contractually obligated at least $117 million for the streetcar project. The contractual obligations mean it could cost more to cancel the project than to finish it, which will cost the city an estimated total of $88 million after deducting $45 million in federal grants. Still, mayoral candidate John Cranley and several council candidates insist they will try to cancel the project upon taking office. Check out CityBeat’s full in-depth story here.
The parking plan’s upfront payment has been reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city, as opposed to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets, according to an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city manager claims the lump sum payment dropped as a result of rising interest rates and the Port Authority’s decision to relax parking meter hours outside Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District. The parking plan leases Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which plans to hire private companies to operate the assets. CityBeat covered the plan in greater detail here and the controversy surrounding it here.
Gov. John Kasich is considering using an executive order to expand the state’s Medicaid program with federal funds. The executive order would expand eligibility for the government-run health insurance program so it includes anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $15,900 in annual income for an individual. Kasich would then on Oct. 21 ask Ohio’s seven-member legislative-spending oversight panel to approve federal funds for the expansion. Kasich, a Republican, has aggressively pursued the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government promises under Obamacare to completely fund through 2016 then phase down and indefinitely hold its payments at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs. But Republican legislators claim the federal government might not be able sustain the payments, even though the federal government has met its payments for the much larger overall Medicaid program since it was created in 1965.
At its final full session before the November election, City Council approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance to bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years. Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only one to vote against the tax incentives. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Gov. John Kasich’s administration was originally supposed to provide some tax incentives to the company, but it ultimately reneged after supposedly deciding that the company isn’t part of an industry the state typically supports. Critics say Kasich’s administration is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio yesterday announced it’s suing Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions passed in the 2014-2015 state budget. The ACLU claims the restrictions are unrelated to the budget and therefore violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.
Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s monitoring the impact of the federal government shutdown with some concerns. “I’m more concerned if this goes more than four weeks or so, when we start talking about reimbursement programs for our larger social programs such as food stamps and cash assistance to the needy and those types of things. We just don’t have the money to front that type of thing,” he said. CityBeat covered the shutdown in further detail here.
Hamilton County’s government shrunk by more than one-third in the past decade.
City Council yesterday passed a resolution condemning State Sen. Bill Seitz’s attempts to weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on their electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.
Early voting turnout is so far “anemic,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Ohio has the No. 12 worst tax environment among states, according to a report from the Tax Foundation. The rank is unchanged from the previous year’s report.
A central Ohio school might ban Halloween.
Bill Nye explains Jupiter’s big red spot:
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.
Standing in front of roughly 40 supporters, city leaders gave the order on Tuesday to lay down the first two streetcar tracks.
The milestone has been years in the making for the $133
million streetcar project — ever since City Council approved the streetcar plan in 2008 and the project broke ground in February 2012.
“This is another great day in our great city,” proclaimed Mayor Mark Mallory, a major proponent of the streetcar. “This is the project that will not stop.”
Political and financial hurdles snared the massive project in the past five years, but city officials say the construction phase is so far within budget and on time, putting it on track to open to the public on Sept. 15, 2016.
Until then, City Manager Milton Dohoney asked for patience as construction progresses.
But not everyone was happy with the milestone. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for not delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December.
“The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning,” Cranley said in a statement. “To lay track for a project that can’t be completed for three years right before an election that will serve as a referendum on the project is a slap in face to the voters.”
Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.
Multiple streetcar supporters at the event told CityBeat that Cranley’s demands are ridiculous. They say that delaying a project with contractual obligations and deadlines for two months because of a political campaign would cripple the city’s ability to take on future projects as weary contractors question the city’s commitments.
Streetcar supporters back the project as both another option for public transit and an economic development driver. Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the Over-the-Rhine and downtown loop will produce a three-to-one return on investment.
Opponents say the project is too costly. They argue the project forced the city to raise property taxes and forgo other capital projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 75 and Martin Luther King Drive.
The project already went through two referendums in 2009 and 2011
in which voters effectively approved the streetcar.
Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in federal funds from the project in 2011 after he won the 2010 gubernatorial election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, whose administration allocated the money to the streetcar.
Earlier in 2013, City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap after construction bids for the project came in higher than expected.
Despite the hurdles, city leaders remain committed to the project. They estimate the first section of the track — on Elm Street between 12th and Henry streets — will be finished in January 2014.
Ever since the Cincinnati streetcar has been envisioned, the mass transit project has been mired in misrepresentations driven largely by opponents and politicians. CityBeat has a breakdown of the misrepresentations here, showing some of the silliest and biggest falsehoods claimed by opponents and supporters.
The national battle over gun control came to Cincinnati on July 4 when former Rep. Gabby Giffords stopped at the Northside parade to call for new restrictions on firearms. Giffords is part of a slew of national leaders calling for stronger regulations and enforcement for background checks — a policy more than nine in 10 Americans support. Still, the call seems to be politically unheard so far: Federal legislation is stalled in Congress, and Ohio legislators are working to loosen gun restrictions.
Facing city budget cuts, public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down by the end of the year. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the organization lost state funding that had been provided through an agreement with Time Warner Cable. But city officials claim the local funding was supposed to act as a one-year reprieve and nothing more — a claim Media Bridges was apparently never made aware of until it was too late. To justify the cut, the city cites public surveys that ranked budget programs in terms of importance, but a look at the citizen surveys shows the demographics were skewed against low-income people who make the most use out of programs like Media Bridges.
Check out CityBeat’s editorial content for this week’s issue:
• German Lopez: “Meet Daniela,” the hypothetical victim of Republican policies at the state and national level.
• Ben Kaufman: “‘Enquirer’ Takes Questionable Approach to Covering Meyers Ordination,” which analyzes the questionable apathy to a supposedly “illegal” ordination of a woman Catholic priest.
• Kathy Wilson: “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” a look at the life story of South African leader Nelson Mandela and the hurdles he faced as he helped end discriminatory apartheid policies.
If you’re headed to Fountain Square today, expect to see some images of bloodied fetuses and fetal limbs. An anti-abortion group is showing a video with the gruesome visuals as part of a protest against what it sees as “the greatest human rights injustice of our time.” The group defends its tactics by citing its First Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has so far refused to rule one way or the other on the issue, but, barring some restrictions for airwave broadcasts, the court typically protects all kinds of political speech as long as it’s not pornographic.
The Cincinnati Police Department is changing how it responds to calls to focus on what it sees as the most important issues, such as impacting violent crime, youth intervention efforts, long-term problem solving projects, traffic safety and neighborhood quality-of-life issues. The biggest change will come with how the department reacts to minor traffic accidents: It will still respond, but it may not file a report.
The so-far-unnamed Greater Cincinnati coalition working to reduce the local infant mortality rate set a goal yesterday: zero. It’s a dramatic vision for a region that, at 13.6, has an infant mortality rate more than twice the national average of six, as CityBeat covered here.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced in a statement yesterday that he will be gathering local leaders and health officials to encourage the state to expand Medicaid. The expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here, would save Ohio money and insure half a million Ohioans in the next decade, according to an analysis by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.
Fish oils may increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study.
A measure that would disallow employers from discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals made it through a U.S. Senate committee yesterday.
Cadillac’s Super Cruise could have the features to making self-driving cars viable.
A device trains blind people to see by listening.
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.
City leaders will host an event today to lay down the first streetcar track. The event will take place at 11 a.m. near Music Hall at Elm and 12th streets. The moment has been years in the making for Cincinnati, which continued pursuing the streetcar project through two referendums, Gov. John Kasich’s decision to pull $52 million from the project and a separate $17.4 million budget gap. Meanwhile, ex-Councilman John Cranley, citing costs, says he would cancel the project if he wins the mayoral election against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls on Nov. 5, even though canceling at this point could cost more than completing the project.
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. Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, says the old ballots will at least count for every candidate and issue except Issue 4, but the 3,000-plus voters could have to refile their ballots to have their votes counted on the controversial pension issue. The board will make the final decision on whether to count the old votes for or against Issue 4 after it hears from state officials and reviews election law, Krisel says.
Supporters of a type of anti-union law infamously dubbed “right to work” say they’re gathering petitions to get the issue on the ballot in 2014. The anti-union proposal wouldn’t ban unions, but it would significantly weaken them by banning agreements between companies and unions that mandate union membership for employees and allow unions to collect dues and fees from nonunion members. The proposal first lost in Ohio in 1958, and it’s been a “flashpoint” for union politics ever since, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Cranley says he’d pick a Democrat as his vice mayor if elected to office. The announcement came on the same day a group of Democratic ward chairs pressured him to announce he’d pick a Democrat as his vice mayor. It was previously rumored that Cranley would choose Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman over any of the Democrats on City Council. The news is the second time in a week Cranley attempted to rebuke the idea that he’s the conservative alternative to Qualls. Previously, Cranley told CityBeat he doesn’t want and would reject an endorsement from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group with a history of anti-gay causes.
In a 3-1 vote, the Hamilton County Board of Elections decided to keep Randy Simes, the pro-streetcar founder of UrbanCincy.com, on the local voter rolls. Tea party groups contested Simes’ ability to vote in Cincinnati because he’s currently on assignment in South Korea and they believed he lived in Chicago when he voted in the Sept. 10 mayoral primary. But Simes says he intends to return to Cincinnati once he completes his assignment in South Korea, leading election officials to conclude that the case is similar to when Procter & Gamble or General Electric employees work abroad but retain their right to vote in Cincinnati. Simes’ supporters said the whole case reeked of politics; the tea party groups behind the charges oppose Qualls for mayor, who Simes openly supports.
Cincinnati yesterday broke ground on its new police headquarters in District 3, which covers East Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Lower Price Hill, Millvale, North Fairmount, Riverside, Roll Hill, Sayler Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, South Fairmount, West Price Hill and Westwood on the West Side.
WCPO will host a mayoral candidate debate between Qualls and Cranley tonight at 7 p.m. Submit questions for the candidates here.
The Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday hosted an online chat with streetcar project executive John Deatrick. Check out the replay here.
Mercy Health hopes to sell two hospitals to consolidate its medical services on the West Side of Cincinnati.
Headline: “Man grabs attacking black bear’s tongue.”
Here’s an army robot firing a machine gun:
John Deatrick is taking over as project executive of the Cincinnati streetcar project, moving on from his previous work as project manager of The Banks. Deatrick’s hiring announcement happened in April, but it was delayed while City Council fixed the project’s budget gap. Deatrick and his team previously won an award for their work at The Banks, and he says he will bring the same scrutiny and success to the streetcar project. A new project manager for The Banks is set to be hired in August. Since the streetcar project’s inception, it has been mired in misrepresentations and political controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Local business leaders are calling on the city government to change its contracting policies to target minority- and women-owned businesses. Advocates argue the city’s inclusion rates have greatly dropped since Cincinnati did away with its inclusion program in the 1990s, but the city administration points out the rates are likely understated because women- and minority-owned businesses are no longer required to report themselves as minorities or women. The business leaders say the figures are too low regardless, which could have big implications since minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire minorities, who have twice the unemployment rate as white residents. As a result of court rulings, Cincinnati needs to first conduct a disparity study before it makes any changes that specifically target minorities or women.
Gabrielle Giffords’s anti-gun violence organization is opening an Ohio chapter to promote legislation that intends to protect both the public and the rights of gun owners. Giffords, a former U.S. representative who survived an assassination attempt, has been touring around the country — at one point coming to Cincinnati — to speak out against gun violence. Gun control legislation failed in the U.S. Senate in April after it fell short of getting 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles, even though polling shows a clear majority of Americans favor such legislation.
Local government funding may be further reduced as a result of recent tax cuts because the Local Government Fund traditionally gets a percent of state tax revenue. Specifically, critics are concerned less state tax revenue will slow down “natural growth” in funding to cities and counties. Last week, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio found the recently passed two-year state budget already reduces local government funding, following even steeper reductions in the previous budget. The cuts since Gov. John Kasich took office have cost Cincinnati more than $22 million.
A traffic camera ban would cost Ohio cities and counties millions of dollars in revenue.
Ohio gas prices are starting down this week.
Home-schooled and private-school students have a right to play on public school teams because of a provision in the recently passed state budget.
Ohio air bases are undergoing review this week as part of Congress’ attempts to gauge whether the nation’s Air Force is prepared for current and future missions and homeland defense.
Slow news day, Enquirer?
Florida researchers found “fat shaming” actually perpetuates obesity.
It would probably take 300 to 500 piranhas five minutes to strip the flesh off a 180-pound human.
The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project, but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder” ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.
Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals” — massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In 2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above 1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.
As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence and unsanitary conditions.
About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job, and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic indicators.
President Barack Obama will make a speech tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require congressional action.
Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.
Plants apparently do math to get through the night.
Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.
Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself. Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.
The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox, which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement. But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it. The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.
Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016 after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.
Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like Media Bridges.
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.
A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.
The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence. Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up 48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.
A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.
Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”
A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.
Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.
In an ad accusing Josh Mandel, a Republican, of lying, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign team may have lied, according to PolitiFact. The U.S. senatorial campaign for Ohio’s senate seat has been filled with dishonesty, but it usually comes from Mandel. The dishonesty seems to be hurting Mandel more than Brown; Mandel is currently down 7.5 points in aggregate polling numbers.Mandel is being taken to court by liberal blog Plunderbund. The blog claims Mandel has made it extra difficult to get public records.
Preliminary data for Ohio schools was released yesterday. Some data is still being held back while an investigation into fraudulent reporting from some schools is finished, but the data gives some insight into how schools performed during the 2011-2012 school year. The data can be found here. From a local angle, the data shows Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) did not meet “adequate yearly progress,” a federal standard that measures progress in student subgroups, such as minority groups; but CPS did meet standards for “value-added growth,” which measures the expected progress in state testing for all students between the third and eighth grades.
City Council approved the $29 million financing plan for the streetcar yesterday. The plan will use $15 million from the Blue Ash airport deal to move utility lines and pipes. The city claims the $15 million, which was originally promised to neighborhood projects, will be reimbursed by Duke Energy once the city settles a conflict with the energy company. Duke and the city are currently arguing over who has to pay to move the utility lines and pipes.
An Ohio state representative is asking the federal government to monitor the election more closely. Rep. Alicia Reece, a Cincinnati Democrat, is asking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to send monitors to the state to ensure no funny business goes on in voting booths on Nov. 6. The request is partly in response to a recent court ruling that forces Ohio to count provisional ballots if the ballots were brought around by poll worker errors.
Ohio’s ability to stop political lies was upheld yesterday. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) tried to put an end to the government power, which COAST claimed was censorship, by taking it to court, but a U.S. judge upheld the ability. The judge, who is a former chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, said COAST did not properly display that its speech was held down by the law. Considering some of COAST’s tweets, the judge is probably right.
E.W. Scripps Co. will host a job fair in Cincinnati Oct. 10 to fill 100 digital jobs.
The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the rights of lesbian ex-couples to set visitation times. The court said non-parents are allowed to participate in visitations during child custody proceedings.
Ohio might expand Medicaid, but not to the extent asked for by Obamacare. That’s what the state’s Medicaid director said yesterday, anyway. A previous study found Medicaid expansions improved and might have saved lives in other states, and other studies have found Medicaid expansions may save the state money by cutting uncompensated costs.
Pundits really dug into Mitt Romney the past few days over his poor poll numbers in Ohio. The Business Courier asked if Romney has already lost Ohio. Politico said Romney’s biggest hurdle to the White House is Ohio. The New Republic ran an article with six theories as to what led to Romney’s losses in the state. The Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out both presidential candidates were stumping at a pivotal time in northern Ohio yesterday. Aggregate polling paints a consistently bad picture for Romney in Ohio; he is currently down four points.
But Romney probably isn’t helping matters. In an Ohio
rally Tuesday, he admitted President Barack Obama didn’t raise taxes in his
Gov. John Kasich signed a series of bills shoring up Ohio’s public pension system yesterday. The laws will cut benefits and raise eligibility requirements, but state officials insist the new laws will mostly affect future retirees.
NASA wants samples from Mars, and it has a plan. The new plan may require a robot-to-human hand-off in space.
With the backing of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, law enforcement around the state have been secretly using facial recognition software for the past two months that scans driver’s licenses and mug shots to identify crime suspects. In emails and documents obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer, DeWine and other state officials apparently couldn’t agree whether the program is in beta testing or full launch and when they should tell the public about it. The program went live without the attorney general’s initial approval and many protocols that protect Ohioans’ security and privacy, raising concerns about whether law enforcement have been able to abuse the new tool.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Friday acknowledged it will ramp up enforcement and tickets once it takes over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, but it claimed the move is meant to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenue that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port or the private operators it’s hiring. The Port also said it had taken steps to make the parking lease a better deal for locals, including a reduction in operation hours in neighborhoods and some downtown areas. The city is leasing its parking assets to the Port for a one-time injection of revenue and annual installments that are supposed to go to development projects that will grow the city’s tax base. But opponents of the lease say it will take away too much control of the city’s parking services and hurt businesses and residents by raising parking rates and hours.
Vacant buildings at the corner of Henry and Race streets will be demolished today to make room for a maintenance facility for Cincinnati’s streetcars — just the latest sign the project is moving forward. Mayor Mark Mallory, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and John Deatrick, streetcar project executive director, will attend the demolition and a press event preceding it, which will take place at 1 p.m.
A new video from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) shows how bad traffic will get if the Brent Spence Bridge isn’t replaced. In the video, OKI claims the current state of the bridge is dangerous and damages the economy. The bridge project is currently estimated at $2.5 billion. At least part of that sum will be paid with tolling if state officials get their way.
Qualls and Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan will today discuss a district-wide travel plan that intends to provide safe routes for students walking and biking to school. The plan, which would use Ohio Department of Transportation funds, makes improvements to crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signals, among other changes. Qualls’ office says the plan is timely as CPS today begins its first week back to school.
Cuts in all levels of government, which Republican state officials call “right-sizing,” might be hindering Ohio’s economic recovery. Only California, New York and Florida have cut more public jobs than Ohio. At the same time, Ohio’s job growth over the past year has stagnated at 0.7 percent. The state has cut local government funding by half since Kasich took office, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Ohio gas prices once again increased this week, but they still remain below the national average.
The USS Cincinnati, a Cold War era submarine, is coming to the city. Some locals have been working on getting the submarine’s sail installed along the riverfront as a memorial.
NASA put up a video explaining how it would land on an asteroid.
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo, the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4 million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed necessary.
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both for the public.”
But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms. Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”
The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.
The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However, even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the country.
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”