In-person early voting in Hamilton County has been given a minimum price tag: $18,676. That’s how much The Cincinnati Enquirer says it will cost to staff polling booths in downtown Cincinnati during the early voting hours directed by Secretary of State Jon Husted.Unfortunately, in an effort to appear as if the early voting issue has two sides, the Enquirer never bothered putting the number in context. The article reads as if that number, which amounts to $406 an hour, is a big expense for Hamilton County. In reality, the additional cost would amount to about 0.009 percent of the 2012 county budget — a rounding error in the $206 million budget.
The number is important because costs are the top
non-racist concern Republicans bring up when opposing more early voting
hours. The other concerns are empowering military voters above normal citizens, which contradicts the entire point of civilian control of the military and ignores mail-in absentee ballots, and voter fraud, which is completely overblown by Republicans.
Over the weekend, Ohio’s early voting battle caught national headlines again when Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, told The Columbus Dispatch in an email, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” The statement echoed earlier statements from former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer, who told MSNBC that voting restrictions are an attempt to limit voting from minorities and younger voters.
The admission to racial politics confirmed suspicions from Democrats that limiting early voting hours is at least partly about suppressing the vote among demographics that typically vote Democrat.
The estimate comes in the middle of an ongoing controversy
regarding in-person early voting hours. Husted
said Wednesday that counties must all follow the same early voting
hours. But the hours excluded early voting during the weekend, much to
the dismay of state Democrats. In response, Democrats in Montgomery
County, which is where Dayton is, decided to try having weekend voting
anyway, and Husted suspended and threatened to fire the Democrats on the
Montgomery County Board of Elections. Democrats were not happy with the threats.
Ohio Democrats held a rally in Columbus this morning in
support of Montgomery County Democrats. The Dayton-area Democrats appeared in a hearing with Husted today to see if they will be fired
from the Montgomery County Board of Elections. A decision will be given later in the week.
At the hearing, Dennis Lieberman, one of the Democrats on the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said he “was not put on the board of elections to be a puppet.” Lieberman also pointed out that Montgomery County saved $200,000 in the 2008 elections by lowering the amount of precincts required with weekend voting.
The controversy is following up an earlier controversy about county-by-county discrepancies in early voting hours — an issue Hamilton County barely avoided when Husted directed county boards to invoke uniform in-person early voting hours across the state a day before Hamilton County Board of Election hearings.
Compared to the previous budget, the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly Thursday increased school funding by $700 million. But the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools received in 2009.
The result: Cincinnati Public Schools will receive $15 million less in state funding than it did in 2009, joining three in four school districts who have a net loss to funding between 2009 and 2015.
Still, Republicans are calling the funding boost the largest increase to education spending in more than 10 years.
“No school district in the state of Ohio will receive less funding than current levels,” says Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans. “Eighty percent of Ohio’s students … are in one of the school districts that is receiving an increase.”
Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says the claim is dishonest because it ignores longer-term trends in funding.
“It’s like they cut off both of your legs, give you back one of them and say, 'You should thank us,'” he says.
Republicans defend the cuts by citing an $8 billion deficit in 2011, which had to be eliminated under state law. Some of the cuts from that previous budget directly impacted school funding, but the decreases also eliminated subsidies that previously benefited schools, such as tangible personal property reimbursements.
Dyer says the state budget situation has changed since then. Instead of focusing on tax cuts, he argues state legislators should have prioritized education funding.
Another problem, according to Dyer, is how the increased funding is distributed. Although Dyer acknowledges the plan is more equitable than the governor’s original proposal, he says some of the most impoverished schools districts, particularly the poor and rural, will get the smallest increases.
Even if there was full equity, Dyer claims there’s not enough money going into education as a result of years of cuts. To illustrate his point, he gives an example: “If I’m going to go see Superman with three of my friends and it costs $10 each to get in, I’ve got $36 and I give everybody $9, none of us are getting in. Even though I perfectly distributed the money equally, … the fact is none of us are getting in.”
The budget’s tax changes could also impact future local funding to schools. As part of the changes, the state will not subsidize 12.5 percent of future property tax levies — something the state does for current levies. For local taxpayers, that means new school levies will be 12.5 percent more expensive.
That, Dyer argues, will make it more difficult to pass future school levies, and that could force schools to ask for less money if they want levies to get voter approval.
“The legislature and legislators are doing a real disservice to people to tell everybody that they’re getting an increase and no one is getting cut,” Dyer says. “They need to be honest with people.”
The budget also increases funding to “school choice” options, including the addition of 2,000 vouchers for private schooling that will be available to kindergarten students in households making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Republicans argue the vouchers give lower-income children access to schools and options in education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
But a January report from Policy Matters Ohio found the extra mobility enabled by school choice options hurts student performance and strains teachers and staff by forcing them to more often accommodate new students.
The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it this weekend.Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson has some explaining to do after being caught yesterday receiving a shipment of 2.5 points of weed to his home. Authorities found another 6 pounds inside the Crestview Hills house, which Simpson owns. Here's how the incident will affect your fantasy football team, should you have made the mistake of drafting Jerome Simpson.
Mitt Romney was criticized for wanting to “kill Big Bird” due to his proposed cuts to publicly funded media, and now City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. could face similar criticism. In his 2013 budget proposal, Dohoney suggested eliminating $300,000 in support to Media Bridges, an organization that provides public access TV and radio stations in Cincinnati.
Tom Bishop, executive director of Media Bridges, called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget. He described dire circumstances in which Ohio originally cut funding to Media Bridges in June 2011, leaving the organization with $198,000 from remaining money in the state fund and $300,000 from Cincinnati’s general fund. The state fund was provided by Time Warner Cable, and lobbying from the cable company is what eventually led to the fund’s elimination. The end of the Time Warner fund cut Media Bridges’ budget by one-third, forcing the organization to change facilities to make ends meet with less space.
With the city manager proposing to cut the city’s $300,000 in funding, Media Bridges is essentially losing $498,000 in 2013. Bishop says that’s about 85 percent of the organization’s budget — a financial gap that would be practically impossible to overcome. “If it’s a complete cut, we’re looking at liquidation,” says Bishop.
When it was notified of the changes a few months ago, Media Bridges gave an alternative plan to the mayor’s office that keeps $300,000 in funding every year after a six-month transition period. But even that plan isn’t ideal, according to Bishop. It would force Media Bridges to cut four staff members, become more dependent on automation and charge $200 a year for memberships with a sliding scale for low-income members.
Media Bridges will be reaching out to the public, mayor and
council members in the coming weeks to draw support in fighting the cuts.
At the government meetings, Bishop will make the plea that public access outlets are important for low-income families. He says it’s true that the Internet and cable television have expanded media options for the public, but, according to the 2010 Greater Cincinnati Survey, more than 40 percent of people in Cincinnati don’t have access to broadband. That’s a large amount of the population that will be left without a way to easily speak out in media if Media Bridges funding is dissolved.
In a world of saturated media, Bishop rhetorically asked why four TV channels that do a public service would need to be targeted: “Does it seem so ridiculous that the people should have a tiny bit of that bandwidth so that they can communicate with the community, share cultural events, share what’s going on in the community and participate politically?”
He added the organization also provides educational access, which allows institutions like the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools and various private schools to reach out to the community.
Media Bridges also sees the cuts as a bit unfair relative to other budget items. Bishop acknowledges “fiscal times are hard,” but he pointed out CitiCable, which broadcasts City Council meetings and other educational services, is getting more than $750,000 in the proposed budget to run one TV channel, while Media Bridges isn't getting $300,000 to run four TV channels and a radio station. He praised CitiCable — “Those guys do a great job over there; they provide a great service” — but he also says the disproportionate cuts are “just not right.”
The cuts to Media Bridges are some of many adjustments in the budget proposal by Dohoney. To balance Cincinnati’s estimated $34 million deficit, Dohoney suggested pursuing privatizing parking services and other cuts, including the elimination of the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit and a $610,770 reduction to human services funding.
Update (Nov. 30, 3:45 p.m.): Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the city manager's office, called back CityBeat after this story was published. She explained Media Bridges was a target for cuts for two reasons: The program was ranked low in importance in public feedback gathered during the priority-driven budget process, and Media Bridges isn't seen as a core city service.
Olberding also said that while some funding does flow through the city to CitiCable, that money has always come from franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner. In the case of Media Bridges, the city was not funding the program until it picked up the tab in 2011. Until that point, Media Bridges was funded through the now-gone Time Warner fund. Only after funding was lost did the city government provide a “one-year reprieve” in the general fund to keep Media Bridges afloat, according to Olberding.
A Clifton community group is contacting local and state officials to get help with the effort to reopen Keller's IGA grocery store in the Gaslight District.
The store, located on Ludlow Avenue in the heart of the neighborhood's business district, abruptly closed Jan. 6, shocking many residents and other longtime customers.
The Anna Louise Inn, the city of Cincinnati and Western & Southern (W&S) met for what could be the final time in court today. For the most part, both sides took their time at the Ohio First District Court of Appeals to restate past arguments.
The three-judge panel heard 15-minute arguments by both sides. It is expected to give a final decision in 30 to 45 days.
During the hearing, W&S lawyer Francis Barrett insisted that the Anna Louise Inn meets the definition of a “special assistance shelter,”rather than “transitional housing” as it was originally classified, due to the Off the Streets program, which helps women involved in prostitution turn their lives around. The difference in labels could have substantial implications for the Anna Louise Inn and whether it can go ahead with its planned $13 million renovation. However, the inn has already obtained a conditional use permit for its renovations in light of the original court decision classifying it as a special assistance shelter.
Tim Burke, lawyer for the Anna Louise Inn, rebutted by asserting that the record shows the Anna Louise Inn has never acted as a special assistance shelter. In one example, Judge Sylvia Hendon asked Burke if the Anna Louise Inn would take in a woman in the middle of the night since it is not a special assistance shelter. Burke responded by saying the Inn would turn the woman away, as required under zoning code: “She will be directed to one of the traditional homeless shelters. She is not admitted to the Anna Louise Inn. The program does not operate that way, and it never has. And the record is absolutely clear about that.”
The ongoing feud was triggered by Cincinnati Union Bethel’s (CUB) refusal to sell the Anna Louise Inn property to W&S. The company originally offered $1.8 million to buy the Anna Louise Inn in 2009. CUB declined, and it eventually obtained $12.6 million in state- and city-distributed federal funding for long-needed renovations. From that point forward, relations between CUB and W&S deteriorated, as CityBeat previously covered in detail (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers,” issue of Aug. 15)
When asked how the hearings went, Burke replied, “You never know … until you hear the decision.”
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.
Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.
In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.
The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.
Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.
Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.
Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.
Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.
Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.
The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.
The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."
Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed.
Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding.
"As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."
Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar.
"Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.
But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.
The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.
That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.
In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.
But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.
Chiquita Brands International decided to move its headquarters from Cincinnati primarily due to logistical reasons involving limited flights at the region's airport, said CEO Fernando Aguirre in a recent interview.
The company first considered moving its headquarters five years ago, he added.
Aguirre's comments are from an interview he gave to the Charlotte Business Journal, a sister newspaper to Cincinnati's Business Courier.