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by German Lopez 03.15.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, LGBT Issues at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
rob portman

Morning News and Stuff

Senator now supports gay marriage, Sittenfeld demands state funding, parking plan in court

Republican Sen. Rob Portman reversed his stance on same-sex marriage after his son came out as gay. The announcement means both Ohio senators are poised to support the Freedom to Marry amendment, which would legalize gay marriage in Ohio and could be on the ballot this year. CityBeat covered FreedomOhio’s efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Ohio in further detail here.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Gov. John Kasich to reverse local government funding cuts carried out during his tenure as governor. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found the state has cut local government funding by $1.4 billion since Kasich took office, which happens to be the exact amount Kasich says his tax cuts are worth. The governor’s office has previously argued that Kasich had to make some cuts to help balance an $8-billion deficit inherited from former Gov. Ted Strickland, and Kasich is touting his tax cuts as one way to reinvigorate Ohio’s small businesses. But local officials from around the state say that money is needed in cities, villages and counties.

The Cincinnati parking plan will be in court today to determine whether a temporary restraining order should remain and whether a lawsuit that claims the plan should be subject to referendum should move forward. If the restraining order does remain, the city says it will have to make cuts to balance the budget by July — in time for the 2014 fiscal year. CityBeat wrote more about the lawsuit here and the parking plan here.

State Auditor Dave Yost says he “fully anticipates” he will get the financial records for JobsOhio, the state-funded nonprofit agency that Kasich supports. Some state Republicans and Kasich argue that only JobsOhio’s public funds should be open for audit, but Yost wants to audit all of the agency’s finances. Kasich says he wants JobsOhio to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development, which is susceptible to a full audit.

Plan Cincinnati won the Frank F. Ferris II Community Planning Award from The Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, which commemorates “a local planning commission or committee whose efforts have contributed to the elevation of planning principles, greater awareness of the value of planning and improved quality of life,” according to a press statement. CityBeat covered Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan since 1980, in further detail here.

Supporters of the Medicaid expansion gathered at a rally yesterday. As part of his budget proposal, Kasich suggested expanding Medicaid, which would cover 456,000 Ohioans by 2022 and save the state money in the next decade, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. Opponents say they fear the plan will leave the state under an unsustainable financial commitment. CityBeat wrote more about the Medicaid expansion and the rest of Kasich’s budget here.

Defense cuts that are part of sequestration, a series of across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in March 1, have forced the Air Force to cancel an Ohio festival.

The development team behind The Banks says it wants to have a hotel built and ready in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Some analysts are doubting Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, which could have bad implications for the local economy.

Higgs Boson, the theorized particle that gives the universe its mass, has been discovered with the help of the Large Hadron Collider.

by German Lopez 03.14.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Budget, Governor at 12:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Sittenfeld to Kasich: Restore Local Government Funding

Report found state has cut local government funding by nearly 50 percent since 2010

With the support of local officials from around the state, Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is launching a website called ProtectMyOhio.com to organize efforts to restore local government funding cut during Gov. John Kasich’s time in office.

Speaking during a phone conference today, Sittenfeld, Dayton Commissioner and mayoral candidate Nan Whaley, Columbus Councilman Zach Klein and Toledo Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe McNamara described how state funding cuts have forced cities and counties to cut services.

“What we’re really trying to do today is speak up and sound the alarm about the governor’s ongoing raid on the Local Government Fund,” Sittenfeld said. “Over the last four years, the governor has taken away $3 billion in local government funding. This year alone, municipalities across Ohio are going to receive nearly $1 billion less than they previously would have.”

He added, “This is the exact same money that cities, villages and townships used to keep cops in the street, staff our fire departments, fix the potholes and some of the other basic services that citizens rightly expect and the local governments are the ones responsible for delivering.”

In the past, the Kasich administration has argued the cuts were necessary. When previously asked about cuts to education and other state funding, Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, told CityBeat, “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit. … We had to fix that.”

But the 2014-2015 budget is not under the fiscal pressures Kasich experienced when he took office, and the governor is pursuing $1.4 billion in tax cuts over the next three years, which he argues will help spur small businesses around the state. During the phone conference, local officials said the revenue going to tax cuts would be better used to return funds to local governments. 

Sittenfeld says the cuts have left Cincinnati with $12 million less per year. “That is the difference between us having our first police recruit class in nearly six years versus not having it,” he said. “It’s the difference between enduring dangerous fire engine brownouts versus not having to do so.”

Klein, who represented Columbus in the call, said the cuts have amounted to nearly $30 million for his city, which he said is enough money to help renovate nearly all the city’s recreation centers, parks and pools.

“No one is spared,” Klein said. “Everyone is getting cut across the state, and every neighborhood — no matter if you’re in a small village or in a large city like Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo or Dayton — (is) at some level feeling the effects of the cuts, whether it’s actual cuts in services or what could be investments in neighborhoods.”

Klein said the cuts, which have been carried out by a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature, contradict values espoused by national Republicans. At the federal level, Republicans typically argue that states should be given more say in running programs like Medicaid, but Ohio Republicans don’t seem to share an interest in passing money down to more local governments, according to Klein.

Some state officials have previously argued that it’s not the state’s responsibility to take care of local governments, but Sittenfeld says it’s unfair to not give money back to the cities: “Cincinnati is a major economic engine for the entire state. We’re sending a lot of money to Columbus, so I think it’s fair to say we would like some of that money back. John Kasich doesn’t have to fill the potholes, and John Kasich doesn’t have to put a cop on the street.”

Whaley, who represented Dayton in the call, said, “There’s a county perspective on this as well. The counties would certainly say that the unfunded mandates that the state legislature brings down daily are covered by those local government funds. While (state officials) keep on making rules for the counties to administer services and make those efforts, it’s pretty disingenuous to say that (county officials) don’t get a share of the income.” 

A Policy Matters Ohio report found the state has cut $1.4 billion from local government funding — nearly half of total funding — during Kasich’s time as governor. The report pinned much of that drop on the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013 and would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget. The estate tax was repealed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich.

Cincinnati had structural deficit problems before Kasich took office, but local officials argue the state’s cut have made matters worse. When presenting his 2013 budget proposal, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the state funding reductions cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in revenues for the year.

Kasich’s office did not return CityBeat’s phone calls for this story.

Kasich’s latest budget proposal has also been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for tax cuts and education funding plans that benefit the wealthy and expanding Medicaid (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).

by German Lopez 03.14.2013
Posted In: Bailout, Economy, News, Governor, Prisons, Budget at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio senator goes after big banks, governors clash, Ohio reduces prison re-entry

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown is putting forward legislation that would break up the big banks to avoid what has been colloquially dubbed “too big to fail.” The liberal senator is teaming up with Sen. David Vitter, a very conservative Republican from Louisiana, to put together the bill, which Brown says will make the economy safer, secure taxpayer money and help create jobs. In his push, Brown has compared the big banks to Standard Oil, which was broken up by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1911 after the oil giant breached antitrust laws.

Indiana Gov. Mike Spence fired back at Ohio Gov. John Kasich for insulting Indiana in recent remarks: “Indiana is the best state in the Midwest to start a business, grow a business and get a job. … With the Hoosier state consistently winning the competition for fiscal responsibility and reform, somebody should remind the governor of Ohio that trash talk usually comes before the game.” In a speech Monday, Kasich said, “This is not Indiana where you go to Indianapolis … and then say, ‘Where else are we going to go? Gary?’ ”

Ohio is a leader in reducing prison re-entry, and that’s translating to millions of dollars for the state’s taxpayers. Ohio’s recidivism rate, which measures how many prison convicts are returning to prison after being released, dropped to 28.7 percent in 2009, from 39.5 percent in 2003. The latest data is from 2009, so it’s before Gov. John Kasich took office and passed measures to further reduce prison recidivism, which provide new ways for criminals to get records expunged, allow released criminals to obtain a certificate of qualification from courts for employment and offer sentence-reduction incentives for prisoners to get job training and education programs while in prison.

The Ohio House approved a bill that would effectively shut down Internet sweepstakes cafes, which state officials claim are havens for gambling and other criminal activity, by limiting their prize payouts to $10. The bill received support from law-enforcement groups, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, some charity organizations and the state’s casino operators.

Mayoral candidate John Cranley says the city should redirect funding meant for the streetcar to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the funding is set up through federal grants that are highly competitive and allocated specifically to the streetcar project.

Opponents of the city’s parking plan briefly celebrated yesterday when they assumed Graeter’s had joined their efforts, but the ice cream company says it was all a misunderstanding. Graeter’s is allowing opponents to gather petition signatures in front of its stores because the sidewalks are public property, but the company says it didn’t give permission to gather signatures within the stores.

Cincinnati’s Findlay Market earned a glowing review in The Boston Globe, sparking a wave of celebration on social media.

The Smale Riverfront Park is forging ahead largely thanks to the help of private funders, who have made up for an unexpected drop in state and federal funds.

The Ohio Senate paved ahead with legislation that will raise the speed limit on some highways, particularly in rural areas, to 70 miles per hour. The bill contains obvious time benefits for drivers, but environmental groups say higher speed limits mean worse fuel efficiency and insurance groups say it will make roads more dangerous.

A West Chester trucking company is cutting 250 jobs.

Popular Science has nine reasons to avoid sugar to save your life.

by German Lopez 03.13.2013
Posted In: Education, News, Budget, Economy, Development at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
richard ross

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich adviser named superintendent, bridge costs may change, educators protest budget

The Ohio Board of Education named Richard Ross, one of Gov. John Kasich’s top education advisers, to the state school superintendent position. Ross’ appointment links the Ohio Department of Education more closely with Kasich, according to StateImpact Ohio. Ross is replacing Stan Heffner, who resigned in August after an ethics investigation found he had misused state resources for personal matters and testified in favor of legislation that could have benefited a company he planned to work for.

In a study that should be out next month, Ohio and Kentucky officials are reviewing the Brent Spence Bridge project to make it more affordable. Many officials want to use tolling to help pay for the bridge, but northern Kentucky residents and elected officials have pushed back because they’re concerned tolls will divert traffic to other bridges in Ohio and hurt the local economy.

In a press conference in front of the Ohio Statehouse yesterday, more than 100 educators and members of the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools (CORAS) asked Kasich to rework his education reform proposal in a way that would raise per-pupil funding, fully fund transportation, career technical and special education programs and pay for new initiatives like the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Under Kasich’s current proposal, the state is reducing aid from $5,700 for each student to $5,000, but CORAS says funding should be increased to $6,270. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal, which includes his education reform plan, here.

While funding in Kasich’s plan is mixed for traditional public schools, charter schools will get 4.5 percent more funding, according to the Legislative Service Commission. Conservatives typically tout charter schools for providing more “school choice,” but in a previous report, Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy research group, found more choices may bring down results from teachers and students.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan and friends and family of fire victims are pushing for a review of Cincinnati’s fire ordinance codes to avert fire deaths. The proposed changes include more required fire exits, annual inspections, a mandatory fire drill at the beginning of each school semester, the removal of all exceptions in the code and a measure that would prevent air conditioning units from being placed on windows that are supposed to act as exits. Quinlivan is also encouraging the University of Cincinnati to restart a certified list of preferred rental locations around campus, which would only include housing properties that pass fire safety inspections.

The first public hearings on Kasich’s budget proposal to expand Medicaid contained mixed testimony, with supporters touting greater accessibility to health care and improved health results and opponents claiming that Medicaid leads to worse outcomes and will discourage people from improving their economic situation. Previous studies, which CityBeat covered along with the rest of Kasich’s budget proposal here, found Medicaid expansions led to lower mortality rates and better health outcomes in certain states. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the Medicaid expansion will save the state money in the next decade and provide health insurance to 456,000 Ohioans by 2022.

The Cincinnati Enquirer has posted the full lawsuit filed against the city’s parking plan, which is set to have a hearing in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court on Friday. CityBeat wrote more about the lawsuit here.

Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled that Elmwood Place can’t collect on tickets from speed cameras that he recently deemed a violation of motorists’ due process. The city and police are filing an appeal to the initial ruling, which halted the use of the cameras.

Eighteen percent of Greater Cincinnati’s chief financial officers plan to hire for new professional-level positions in the second quarter, while 66 percent say they will only fill jobs that open in the next three months.

Ohio joined 37 states and the District of Columbia in a $7 million settlement with Google yesterday that is expected to net $162,000 for the state. The case centered around Google collecting data from unsecured wireless networks nationwide and taking photographs for its Street View service between 2008 and March 2010.

The effort to effectively ban Internet sweepstakes cafes passed an Ohio House committee.

The federal government may not need to balance its budget at all, according to Bloomberg.

Trained Soviet attack dolphins with head-mounted guns are on the loose.

by German Lopez 03.12.2013
Posted In: Governor, News, Economy, Budget at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Local unemployment rises, FitzGerald to run for governor, tea party protests Medicaid

The region’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate shot up in January, with the City of Cincinnati at 8.6 percent, up from 6.7 percent in December; Hamilton County at 7.9 percent, up from 6.2 percent; and Greater Cincinnati at 8 percent, up from 6.4 percent. The rates were still lower than January 2012, when Cincinnati was at 8.8 percent, Hamilton County was at 8.3 percent and Greater Cincinnati was at 8.5 percent. But the civilian labor force, which measures the amount of people working and looking for jobs, was larger across-the-board in January 2012 than it was in January 2013. Federal and state employment rates are normally adjusted for seasonal factors, but local rates are not. The full data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services can be seen here.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald launched an “exploratory committee” for a gubernatorial election campaign that intends to unseat Gov. John Kasich. In his announcement video, FitzGerald says state leaders have let down Ohioans and he can provide a better alternative.

The Cincinnati Tea Party is protesting Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid to include anyone up to or at 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The tea party says the expansion, which is financially supported by Obamacare, is financed by the federal government’s debt and creates more long-term problems by failing to address current issues with the U.S. health care system. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the Medicaid expansion will save the state money in the next decade and provide health insurance to 456,000 Ohioans by 2022. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal, which includes the Medicaid expansion, in further detail here.

Yesterday, Kasich’s administration tried to explain why it did not seek legislative approval before transferring about $6.5 million in taxpayer money to JobsOhio, but it did not provide any evidence for its claim that the grants used do not require legislative approval. State Democrats are getting increasingly critical of the lack of transparency behind JobsOhio, a publicly funded nonprofit agency that Kasich established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development. Recently, State Auditor Dave Yost has been pushing to fully audit JobsOhio’s finances, even its private funds, but Kasich and General Assembly Republicans argue the state auditor can only check on public funds.

Bipartisan efforts to get rid of traffic cameras are underway, largely because the policy is seen as a money grab, may be unconstitutional and likely to be put to referendum, anyway.

A nun, poll worker and widower have been indicted in the Hamilton County Board of Election’s voter fraud case. The board says the charges are only the beginning, and other investigations are ongoing.

In order to meet new state standards, Cincinnati will implement safety improvements for pedestrians, including changes to lines separating pedestrian crosswalks and countdowns on more pedestrian signals.

The University of Cincinnati is investing $1.6 million in its doctoral programs and accepting proposals to support others to show how it would result in better faculty, student research productivity, recruitment, retention of top students and ability to leverage extended funding.

With yesterday’s approved changes to the state’s transportation budget, Ohio could be moving to a 70 mile-per-hour speed limit soon.

A dad hacked the game Donkey Kong to allow his daughter to play a heroine instead of Mario.

With a new artificial intelligence app that tweets even after a person dies, mortality is no longer a concern for retaining Twitter followers.

by German Lopez 03.11.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, City Council, Taxes, Privatization, Parking at 08:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Parking plan on hold, mall renovations to go ahead, Kasich's sales tax plan under fire

Cincinnati’s plan to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains on hold as a lawsuit arguing the law should be subject to referendum works through the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and takes away the possibility of a referendum. Emergency clauses are routinely deployed in City Council, but opponents of the parking plan say that doesn’t make them right.

Whether the parking deal does go through or not, the Tower Place Mall renovations will be carried out. The city originally included the renovations as part of the plan, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the city is planning on selling the the property to a subsidiary of JDL Warm Construction for an undisclosed sum, and the company will then pay an estimated $5 million for the redevelopment.

Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand the sales tax to fund tax cuts is being heavily criticized by some members of the business community, but Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance & Appropriations Committee, says he is looking into ways to save the proposal. Kasich’s plan would expand the application of the sales tax to include more services, including cable TV and admission to sport events, but it would lower the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and carry out 20-percent across-the-board income tax cuts. CityBeat wrote about Kasich’s budget proposal in further detail here.

As part of Kasich’s education plans, the state’s school voucher program is expanding to help students meet a Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-graders pass a test in reading proficiency before they can move onto fourth grade. Supporters argue the voucher program provides more choice and control for parents, but opponents say the state should not be paying for private educations. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice through more vouchers can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.

State Auditor Dave Yost is pushing for a full audit of JobsOhio, the publicly funded private, nonprofit agency, but Republican state legislators are joining Kasich in opposition. The opposing Republicans say the state auditor can track any public funds used for JobsOhio, but they say the agency is allowed to keep its private funds under wraps. Kasich says he plans to replace the Ohio Department of Development, which can be fully audited by the state auditor at any time, with JobsOhio.

The Ohio Department of Education apparently knew or should have known of ongoing data scrubbing in schools as early as 2008, according to The Toledo Blade. Emails acquired by The Blade show officials analyzed and discussed data reports that year after media reports detailed how urban districts excluded thousands of test scores on state report cards.

Supporters of the Anna Louise Inn gathered Friday in celebration of International Women’s Day and to stand against Western & Southern’s repeated efforts to run the Inn out of the neighborhood.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Cincinnati commutes are much shorter than the national average, with only 2.9 percent of Cincinnatians spending more than 60 minutes one-way during their commute, as compared to the 8.1 percent national average.

The Cincinnati Enquirer unveiled its new tabloid format today. Ben Kaufman says it looks nice and arrived on time.

The Killers are coming to the Horseshoe Casino.

A new study says results from fMRI scans are unintentionally distorted and inaccurate — to the point that some studies on the human brain that use fMRI results may be seriously questionable.

by German Lopez 03.08.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Parking, City Council, Budget at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
downtown grocery

Parking Plan Remains in Limbo

Case moved back to common pleas court, hearing set for March 15

The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.

“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.

The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”

The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum. 

In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”

The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.

“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”

CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.

by German Lopez 03.08.2013
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Federal unemployment down, state joblessness up, Tower Place Mall renovations detailed

In February, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, from 7.9 percent in January, and the nation added 236,000 jobs. Many of the new jobs — about 48,000 — came from construction, while government employment saw a drop even before sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts, began on March 1. Economists seem quite positive about the report.

In January, Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent, from 6.7 percent in December, with the number of unemployed in the state rising to 399,000, from 385,000 the month before. Goods-producing and service-providing industries and local government saw a rise in employment, while jobs were lost in trade, transportation, utilities, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, state government and federal government. In January, U.S. unemployment rose to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in December.

A new report outlined renovations for the city-owned Tower Place Mall, which is getting a makeover as part of Cincinnati’s parking plan. A lot of the retail space in the mall will be replaced to make room for parking that will be accessed through what is currently Pogue’s Garage, but two rings of retail space will remain, according to the report. The parking plan was approved by City Council Wednesday, but it was temporarily halted by a Hamilton County judge. The legal contest has now moved to federal court, and it’s set to get a hearing today.

Meet the mayoral candidates through CityBeat’s two extensive Q&As: Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Qualls spoke mostly about her support for immigration, the parking plan and streetcar, while Cranley discussed his opposition to the parking plan and streetcar and some of his ideas for Cincinnati.

A Hamilton County court ruled against the controversial traffic cameras in Elmwood Place, and the Ohio legislature is considering a statewide ban on the cameras. In his ruling, Judge Robert Ruehlman pointed out there were no signs making motorists aware of the cameras and the cameras are calibrated once a year by a for-profit operator. The judge added, “Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty. … It is a scam that motorists can’t win.” Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced to prohibit traffic cameras in Ohio.

JobsOhio, the state-funded nonprofit corporation, quietly got $5.3 million in state grants, even though the state legislature only appropriated $1 million for startup costs. JobsOhio says it needed the extra funds because legal challenges have held up liquor profits that were originally supposed to provide funding. In the past few days, State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has been pushing Republican Gov. John Kasich and JobsOhio to release more details about the nonprofit corporation’s finances, but Kasich and JobsOhio have been pushing back.

Advocates for Ohio’s charter schools say Kasich’s budget amounts to a per-pupil cut, with funding dropping from $5,704 per pupil to $5,000 plus some targeted assistance that ranges from hundreds of dollars to nothing depending on the school. A previous CityBeat report on online schools found traditional public schools get about $3,193 per student — much less than the funding that apparently goes to charter schools.

Fountain Square will be getting a new television from Cincinnati-based LSI Industries with the help of Fifth-Third Bank and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The new video board will have better image quality and viewing angles, but it will also come with more screen space for sponsors.

Ohio’s casino revenues rose in January. That could be a good sign for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, which opened Monday.

In light of recent discussion, Popular Science posted a Q&A on drones.

by German Lopez 03.07.2013
Posted In: Economy, Budget, Media, News, Privatization, Parking at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Judge halts council's parking plan, city's deficit options, gun records could be sealed

City Council approved a plan to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, but the plan is now being held up by a judge’s temporary restraining order (TRO). The plan was passed with an emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation, but it also makes the law immune to referendum. The judge’s TRO, which will delay implementation for at least one week, will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum. The parking plan will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. Opponents say they’re concerned about the plan leading to parking rate hikes, and they say the plan will not fix the city’s structural deficits.

Before the final vote on the parking plan, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council that showed options for reducing Cincinnati’s structural deficit, including a reduction or elimination of lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, a reduction in subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare, the semi-automation of solid waste collection or the introduction of new or increased fees for certain programs, among other changes.

Ohio senators are pushing a law that would make records of people licensed to carry concealed firearms in Ohio off-limits to journalists. The senators say they were inspired to push the law after a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of permit holders in three counties. Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, says the law will decrease government transparency and limit rights: “I wish the pro-gun forces would be as respectful of the First Amendment as they are of the second, and they should be fearful of excessive government secrecy.”

The superintendent and treasurer of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, a charter school, were indicted after allegedly using school funds to go to “Girls weekends” in Chicago, sightseeing tours through California and Europe and a trip to Boston to see Oprah — allegedly costing taxpayers more than $148,000. Dave Yost, state auditor, said in a statement, “The audacity of these school officials is appalling. The good work by our auditors and investigators has built the strongest possible case to ensure they can never use the public treasury as their personal travel account again.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are working together to make the case that any delays in the Brent Spence Bridge project will hurt Greater Cincinnati’s economy. Most people involved in the issue agree the bridge needs rebuilding, but not everyone agrees on how the project should be funded. Northern Kentucky politicians in particular have strongly opposed instituting tolls — one of the leading ideas for funding the project.

In public hearings yesterday, service industry officials said Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan, which will expand the state’s sales tax to apply to more service, would drive some service providers out of Ohio and make the state less competitive. Among other complaints, Carter Strang, president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, said the plan could make it harder for Ohioans to access legal counsel by increasing costs and reducing employment in the legal sector. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in detail here.

State Auditor Yost filed a subpoena to get JobsOhio’s financial records after the agency failed to turn them over. The subpoena puts Yost at odds with Kasich, a fellow Republican who established JobsOhio, a nonprofit company, in an attempt to bring more jobs to the state and replace the Ohio Department of Development.

Hamilton County is launching the Hamilton County Community Re-entry Action Plan, which will help integrate ex-convicts back into society. Commissioner Todd Portune told WVXU the plan will help with overpopulation in jails and prisons: “When you build (jail and prison) facilities, the population in them always seems to rise to meet whatever the (capacity) level is in the facility. You never seem to have enough space. The real answer beyond facilities is that we've got to turn around the lives of the individuals who are in our corrections system that have made bad choices.”

The University of Cincinnati says it won’t block an outdoor display of vagina pictures on campus.

Yesterday, Kentucky’s U.S. Sen. Rand Paul held a nearly 13-hour filibuster to protest any possible use of drone strikes on American soil. Paul was joined by senators from both sides of the aisle in his opposition to using the strikes, which were used in Yemen in 2011 to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen accused of being a high-ranking al-Qaeda official.

The same Cleveland judge who made a woman hold an “idiot” sign for driving around a school bus is making a 58-year-old man hold another sign for threatening officers in a 911 call. The sign will apologize to officers and read, “I was being an idiot and it will never happen again.” The man will also go to jail for 90 days.

There used to be camels in Arctic Canada, but that shouldn’t be too surprising — camels currently reside in the Gobi Desert, which can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.

by German Lopez 03.06.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Privatization, Parking, Budget at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
downtown grocery

Council Approves Parking Plan, Judge Orders Temporary Halt

Injunction puts agreement to lease parking assets on hold

In a 5-4 vote today, City Council approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance deficits for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects in Downtown, but the plan is now being held up by a Hamilton County judge's temporary restraining order (TRO).

The plan was approved with an emergency clause, which means it is not subject to referendum, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Councilman Chris Seelbach joined the parking plan’s five supporters in approving the emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation by removing a 30-day waiting period.

Shortly after the parking plan was approved by City Council, Judge Robert Winkler signed a TRO that will halt its implementation for at least one week. The judge’s action will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

Mayor Mark Mallory says the emergency clause was passed to speed up the plan’s implementation in time for the budget that will begin July 1, not to suppress voters: “I don't think that any member of council has ever voted for an emergency clause in an effort to keep voters from being able to reverse the decision that the council is making, so I take exception with that characterization.”

The parking plan got its required fifth vote, up from a 4-3 vote in the Budget and Finance Committee Monday, from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who abstained from voting in the committee meeting because she said she was concerned about the city’s long-term fiscal outlook. She says her concerns were eased after she read the leasing agreement and listened to a presentation from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that gave City Council a few options for fixing the city’s structural deficits.

The parking plan’s other supporters were council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young. Council members Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against the plan.

The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal will produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments will generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.

Opponents say they are concerned the plan will give up too much control of the city’s parking meters and garages, which they say could lead to spikes in parking rates.

Under the initial plan, downtown rates will remain at $2 an hour and neighborhood rates will be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, according to Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.

The city will be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.

Opponents also say the money from the parking plan is being used too quickly, which does little to alleviate the city’s structural deficits.

Dohoney previously argued the plan will help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.

“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said Monday. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.”

With the lease agreement approved, it is now up to the Port Authority to develop and publicize the bond documents that will further detail the framework of the parking plan.

Earlier in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration reform.

Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.