Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.
Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.
“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.
Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.
The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.
Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.
“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”
Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities.
Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.
If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.
The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes.
The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.
Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.
In hopes of quashing rumors, City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit authority had voted Tuesday on an agreement with the city that contained a provision saying money from the $42 million transit fund that pays for bus operation can’t be used on the streetcar.
The agreement needs to be signed by the city as well in order to release millions of dollars in federal grants to help fund the streetcar. The city has pledged to match those grants with local funds. SORTA wants to make sure the transit fund isn’t used for that purpose, but the city wants to have the freedom to use that money on any transportation project.
At least one council member questioned the necessity of passing the resolution.
Chris Seelbach said that nobody on council or in the city administration had proposed or would propose using transit money on the streetcar.
“I don’t understand why we would need a provision in any contract that would make us not be able to, when nobody’s proposing that we do it,” he said.
The resolution has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar, but Qualls said she hoped it put citizens’ minds at rest regarding their intentions.
Mayor Mark Mallory on Monday published an editorial in The Enquirer promising that the transit money wouldn’t be used for the streetcar.
He went further on Wednesday and said during council’s meeting that he as mayor would never approve the use of transit money for the operation of the streetcar.
Council also passed a one-month budget for SORTA, requiring that they come back next month to pass another one.
Councilman Chris Smitherman accused Mallory of trying to flex political muscle in the budget to strong-arm SORTA into taking out the provision disallowing the use of transit funds for the streetcar. He questioned the timing of passing a SORTA budget the day after the transit authority voted to prevent transit funds being used for the streetcar.
Councilman Charlie Winburn — council's sole Republican — walked out of a Budget Committee meeting in advance of the vote.
However Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said it made sense to pass the one-month budget because it forbid SORTA from using taxpayer money to sue the city.
City Solicitor John Curp said it was SORTA’s position in the lawsuit that it should be the one deciding how transit funds are used, not the city.
In two days, the physical space that's housed Cincinnati's Gay and Lesbian Community Center for the past 20 years will be vacant, but the organization won't disappear entirely.
Instead, the Center will become a completely virtual informational resource for the region's LGBT community and act as a funding resource for other Cincinnati organizations.
The Center could not be immediately reached for comment on the closure.
A letter from the board of directors sent out on Oct. 28 announced that the decision to close was based on a need to "evolve with the times." The letter states that the organization will continue to answer emails and voicemails and maintain its popular annual fundraiser, Pride Night at Kings Island, and that the board is working on selecting a public location to hold annual meetings.
Pride Night at Kings Island, which has consistently been the Center's most profitable and popular fundraising effort, brought out record crowds this year.
The private, nonprofit volunteer-run foundation, which has been located in Northside for the past 20 years, uses its profits to provide grant to other Cincinnati-area LGBT groups. The organization's first grant for 2014 will provide Cincinnati Pride with $5,000 to expand promotions for Cincinnati Gay Pride on May 31, 2014, and for the city's celebration of Pride Month, which runs through June.
President Barack Obama announced a new trade action against China during a Cincinnati campaign stop on Monday, where he also took the opportunity to attack Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The U.S. filed the case at the World Trade Organization on Monday and claims that China offers “extensive subsidies” to native automakers and auto-parts producers.
The Chinese government filed its own complaint before the WTO on Monday, challenging tariffs the U.S. imposes on Chinese products ranging from steel to tires. The tariffs are meant to protect American manufacturers against what the U.S. government claims are unfair trade practices by China.
“(The U.S. action is) against illegal subsidies that encourage companies to ship auto part manufacturing jobs overseas,” Obama said before an estimated crowd of 4,500 at the Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park. “These are subsidies that directly harm working men and women on the assembly lines in Ohio and Michigan and across the Midwest.”
“It’s not right, it’s against the rules, and we will not let it stand. American workers build better products than anyone. ‘Made in America’ means something. And when the playing field is level, America will always win.”
Obama went on to criticize his Republican challenger, saying Romney made his fortune in part by uprooting American jobs and shipping them to China. Obama accused Romney — who has criticized Obama’s foreign policy, saying the president apologizes for American interests — of talking the talk without being able to walk the walk.
The Romney campaign countered with an email after the rally, saying that Obama’s economic policies were hurting the private sector and harmed manufacturing.
“The President’s misguided, ineffective policies have hampered the private sector and allowed China to flaunt the rules while middle-class families suffer,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg wrote.
“As president, Mitt Romney will deliver a fresh start for manufacturers by promoting trade that works for America and fiscal policies that encourage investment, hiring and growth.”
The email pointed to reports from Bloomberg finding that manufacturing and production have shrunk recently.
Before the Obama rally several Ohio Republicans held a news conference behind a Romney campaign bus near Eden Park, where they focused more on the deficit than foreign trade.
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot said it was “laughable” that Obama considers himself a budget hawk. He pointed to the decline in budget negotiations between the president and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, saying Obama “walked away” from talks with Speaker John Boehner.
“Basically as president from that time last August until now, it’s been all politics,” Chabot said.
Chabot also attacked Obama on foreign policy, claiming the president has left Israel hanging in the Middle East and is not serious with Iran, who he says is on the brink of getting nuclear weapons.
The president in his speech said he did have a plan to reduce the federal deficit, and would reduce it by $4 trillion over the next 10 years without raising taxes on the middle class.
Monday’s visit to Cincinnati was Obama’s second of this campaign and his 12th trip to Ohio this year. Romney has visited the state 18 times during his campaign.
Obama was scheduled to fly to Columbus Monday afternoon for a campaign appearance there.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus held a conference call with Ohio reporters Wednesday morning in response to Tuesday comments by Democratic Vice President Joe Biden that the middle class had been “buried” in the last four years.
“Obama and Biden have buried the middle class, and now they want to bury them some more,” Priebus told reporters.
“I mean, just imagine what Barack Obama would do. He buried us economically in this country knowing that he would have to face re-election. Just imagine what he would do with nothing but daylight in front of him. Just imagine where this economy would go.”
Biden made his comments before an audience of about 1,000 in Charlotte on Tuesday. He said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax cuts for millionaires would raise taxes for the middle class.
“How can they justify raising classes on a middle class that has been buried the last four years?” Biden said.
Biden tried to clarify that he meant they had been buried by policies supported by Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan.
Republicans, however, jumped on the comment immediately, with Romney tweeting, “the middle class has been buried the last 4 years, which is why we need a change in November.”
Priebus said despite polling showing Obama pulling ahead of Romney in Ohio that the state would be very close. He said Republicans have a better ground game and would “crush” Democrats.
“I think we’re going to crush the Democrats on the ground,” Priebus said.
“I just don’t think they’ve got a very good ground game. I’ve looked through it, I’ve seen it. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”
Priebus said if Romney were to lose Ohio, he was still optimistic about Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.
“We’ve got it all on the table. Ohio is, of course, extremely important. It’s nothing new, but I also see avenues to 270 (electoral votes) opening up for Mitt Romney in places that weren’t there in ’08.”
Today is the last day you can register to vote in the Nov. 2 election. You can register in person at any county board of elections, or you can mail in your registration to your county board of elections or to the Secretary of State, but make sure the postmark is no later than today.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today released a disappointing job report. Unemployment fell to 8.1 percent in August, and 96,000 jobs were added nationwide. But economists were expecting about 150,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell largely due to people giving up on the job hunt, which means they are no longer counted in the labor pool.
One of the reasons for disappointment is the drop in public jobs. People are quick to look at the private sector when these kind of numbers come up, but the public sector employs people, too. And the public sector lost 10,000 jobs at state and local levels, according to today’s jobs report.
That follows the trend of the past few years. The public sector has been doing poorly since the Great Recession started, according to this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
The chart shows state and local payrolls since the beginning of the recession. It proves quite clearly that governments have been making cuts to public jobs.
Ohio has not avoided government job cuts. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported July’s unemployment rate at 7.2 percent, which was unchanged from June’s unemployment rate. The biggest loss in jobs for the month came from government, which lost 5,300 jobs statewide. In comparison to July 2011, July 2012 had 4,400 fewer government jobs.
Instinctively, it makes some sense. As the recession kicks in and families and businesses are forced to budget for lower expectations, it might seem natural to expect the government to do the same.
However, many economists argue it should be the opposite. They say the government should be used to balance out the private sector. In other words, when the private sector is performing poorly — recession — the government should step in to make up for the drop. When the private sector is performing well — boom — the government can relax and run budget surpluses.
Paul Krugman, a Nobel-winning economist, has advocated for this approach time and time again. In his New York Times column and blog, Krugman has pushed for more stimulus efforts from the federal government, and he called for a much larger stimulus package than the $787 billion package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009.
The data seems to support economists calling for more action. Last month, the Brookings Institute conducted a study that found June’s national unemployment rate would be at 7.1 percent if governments hadn’t made cuts.
What this means is if governments truly want to fix the economic crisis, they might want to kick the debt can down the road. But considering many cities and states have constitutional amendments requiring balanced budgets, that might be hard to pull off.
If three unscientific, online polls are any indication, Ohio Gov. John Kasich probably shouldn't make plans for a second term.
The Columbus Dispatch, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton's WRGT-TV (Channel 45) have each had polls asking people to rate Kasich's performance during his first 100 days in office and the results are overwhelming and the same: Most disapprove of his performance or give him an “F.”
Today is the deadline to register to vote in this year's elections on Nov. 3. Find details on the Hamilton County Board of Elections web site.
Here are voter registration contacts for other local counties: