After a few months of preparation, two Ohio legislators today formally introduced an economic development plan that a nonpartisan group has said could create up to 16,000 jobs in the state.
State Sens. Eric Kearney (D-North Avondale) and Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) have submitted Senate Bill No. 278, known as “Forward Ohio,” for the State Legislature’s consideration.
While Congress has been wrangling back and forth for months about raising the federal minimum wage, the City of Cincinnati is doing what it can to encourage businesses to pay their employees enough to get by.
The Cincinnati Living Wage Employer Initiative will officially recognize employers paying their employees at least $10.10 an hour, the same hike congressional Democrats have been pushing in the House and Senate. The program looks to reward businesses and nonprofits that take the step, providing a website, cincinnatilivingwage.com, where consumers can check to see which businesses pay employees a fair wage.
Though the program is voluntary, the hope is that positive recognition and consumer pressure will encourage businesses to pay employees a wage that allows them to be self-sustaining.
“Although the city of Cincinnati cannot legislate a higher minimum wage–that’s left up to the state–we do feel we have a crucial role to play in creating a culture of living wage employers,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at an Oct. 2 news conference announcing the initiative, which he’s helped push.
“Cincinnati cannot wait on Congress to take action,” he said. “But our local businesses and organizations can raise their minimum wage voluntarily and immediately, and individuals can make conscientious consumer decisions about spending their money with those employers.”
So far, four organizations, including the city, are listed as partners in the initiative. One is Cincinnati-based Grandin Properties, whose CEO Peg Wyant appeared with Sittenfeld at the Oct. 2 announcement.
Another is Pi Pizza, which is opening its first store in Cincinnati downtown at Sixth and Main Streets on Oct. 13. The company, based in St. Louis, has paid non-tipped workers at its seven locations in Missouri, Washington DC and elsewhere $10.10 an hour for five months. The company looks to employ about 100 people in Cincinnati.
Pi Pizza CEO Chris Sommers estimates about 75 percent of those employees will be hourly and not working for tips, meaning they’ll benefit from the wage boost. Sommers said the increased payroll costs are more than balanced by reduced employee turnover rates and increased productivity.
“We did it without raising prices, and we did it after extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis to make sure we could pay for it and that we could still grow and expand to cities like Cincinnati,” Sommers said of the wage boost.
He encouraged other businesses to make a similar commitment.
“If Pi Pizza can do it, you can do it,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business–more people walking around, with not only more money to put gas in their cars, more money to get their cars fixed, but also more people to buy pizza. And that’s important, right?”
Boosting the minimum wage has caused a deep debate in the United States. Proponents, including President Barack Obama, who called for the boost to $10.10 during this year’s state of the union address, say that low-wage workers don’t make enough to survive easily or raise families, boosting dependence on government programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. Opponents, however, including Republicans in Congress like House Speaker John Boehner, say that it will cost businesses more and stifle job growth. Republicans also say that most low-wage jobs are held by high school students, part-time workers who aren’t trying to sustain themselves independently or raise families.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data, however, show that two-thirds of minimum wage workers are over the age of 19. Sommers said that few, if any, of the 107 employees at a recent orientation for Pi Pizza’s Cincinnati location were young students.
The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, though 23 states, including Ohio, have a higher minimum. The highest wage in the country is in Washington State, where employers must pay adult non-tipped workers at least $9.87. Ohio’s minimum wage is currently $7.95, which will increase to $8.10 in January, thanks to a 2005 constitutional amendment that pegs the state’s minimum to inflation. Even at this new state minimum wage, however, a worker working 40 hours a week will still gross less than $17,000 a year. At $10.10, the same worker would earn $21,000– enough to put a family of three just above the federal poverty level.
“While even the higher hourly wage will leave some people vulnerable, the extra earned income represents the difference between people being able to sustain a basic existence or not,” Sittenfeld said.
Politics is often a game of strategy, and an area anti-tax group is well-known for taking the offensive on most issues it advocates. A recent dispute over a referendum on a payday loan law, however, has the group facing stinging criticism for getting its facts wrong and overstating its own influence.
Oct. 10 update: At its final full session before the Nov. 5 election, City Council on Wednesday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance that city officials say will bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years.
Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only council member to vote against the deal.
Oct. 9 story: City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits over 10 years for Pure Romance in return for the company coming to and remaining in Cincinnati for 20 years.
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.
If the company fails to keep at least 126 jobs after three years or remain in Cincinnati for 20 years, the city will claw back some of the tax credits depending on how egregiously the terms are failed.
Cincinnati in 2011 clawed back tax benefits on its so-called “megadeal” with Convergys after the company failed to keep its total downtown employment at 1,450 or higher.
Pure Romance is a $100-million-plus company that hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products.
The company was originally planning on moving to Cincinnati with support from both the state and city. But Gov. John Kasich’s administration ultimately declined to provide tax credits, which forced the city to ratchet up its offer from $353,000 to prevent Pure Romance from moving to Covington, Ky., instead of Cincinnati.
Kasich’s administration says
the company didn’t fall into an industry the state normally supports,
but state Democrats and local officials claim the state government
resisted the tax credits because of a “prudish” attitude toward a company that sells sex toys.
“We welcome Pure Romance to the city of Cincinnati,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said at the committee meeting. “We are glad that the city administration and Pure Romance were able to work out an arrangement that actually welcomed them to the city.”
Pure Romance previously told CityBeat that it hopes to move its headquarters from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati by the end of the year, but the move hinges on whether the company can quickly finalize a lease agreement.
A tea party-backed pension amendment yesterday cleared the hurdle of 7,443 petition signatures required to appear on the November ballot. Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the group behind the amendment, had previously paid nearly $70,000 to petitioners to gather signatures. The amendment would privatize pension plans so the city and city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to individual retirement accounts that the employee would then manage by independently selecting investments. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for Social Security, which means they’ll lack the safety net that typically comes with risky 401k-style plans. If workers do qualify for Social Security, the city would have to pay into the federal entitlement program, which would cost the city more money, according to an Aug. 5 report from the city administration.
Cincinnati is cutting ties with SoMoLend, the local startup that had previously partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with $400,000 in loans. SoMoLend has been accused of fraud by the Ohio Division of Securities, which says the local company exaggerated its performance and financial figures and lacked the proper licenses to operate as a peer-to-peer lending business. The Division of Securities won’t issue a final order until after a hearing in October. SoMoLend’s specialty is using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders.
Ohio Republicans are considering bringing back the “heartbeat bill,” the controversial anti-abortion bill that would ban induced abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which could happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill could be reintroduced next week. That would come just a couple months after Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved a slew of anti-abortion measures through the two-year state budget.
The Ohio Senate will today hear testimony from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio about projections that show the state could save money if it takes up the Medicaid expansion. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In return, the federal government will pay for the expansion for the first three years and wind down to paying 90 percent of the costs after that. The Health Policy Institute previously estimated the expansion would save Ohio roughly $1.8 billion and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is touting Cincinnati Safe Student Housing, a website that allows university students to pick from housing options that passed a free fire inspection. The website was unanimously approved by City Council following several university students’ deaths to fires, which council members argue could have been prevented with stronger standards.
The new owner of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel says he will reopen the building as a hotel. Alan Friedberg, managing principal of the company that bought the building earlier this year, says the process of bringing back the building will take a lot of time and work, considering it’s now been vacant for three years.
Four Greater Cincinnati hospitals have been recognized for protecting the LGBT rights of patients and employees by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation: Bethesda North Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Cincinnati Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio. DeWine claims the summary for the ballot initiative is untruthful and leaves out various important details.
Mason, a Cincinnati suburb, was ranked one of the top 10 places to live by CNNMoney. Maybe CNN really likes Kings Island.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was in Cincinnati yesterday to call on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite processing on benefit claims. The VA currently has a backlog of 500,000 veterans, according to a press release from Brown’s office.
Introducing Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, a proposal for a railway system that would use high-pressure tubes to shoot passengers around the country. It’s estimated traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which normally takes about five and a half hours, would only take 30 minutes in the tubes.
Tuesdays will be market day at downtown’s Fountain Square beginning in late spring and lasting until early fall. And to fill the market, the group that manages the plaza is accepting applications from interested vendors.
The Cincinnati City Center Development Corp. (3CDC) will operate the market for 21 weeks, from May 1 to Sept. 25. The midday, mini-market will be open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
A bill that supporters say would've ensured women are paid the same as men for doing the same work was blocked today by the U.S. Senate in a 58-41 vote. All Republican senators — including George Voinovich from Ohio — voted against allowing debate on the bill.
The bill, known as the Paycheck Fairness Act, was approved by the House in January 2009 and was supported by President Obama.
There was a period of time in U.S history, roughly for 30 years after the Civil War, known as “the Gilded Age.” The American economy grew at an unprecedented rate as the nation transformed itself from an agrarian society into an industrial one.
But the transformation's downside included excessive displays of wealth and captains of industry who grew their fortunes on the backs of exploited and mistreated workers. The government ignored the situation, as the era gave rise to the concept of “social Darwinism.”