The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3.
The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar: “Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use, high-density environments.”
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among others.”
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project, but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies and investments that increase transportation choices and access to transportation services for people in communities across the United States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City Council motions, but Cranley says those motions, which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from what I thought were more important priorities.”
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.
A proposal made today by a Hamilton County commissioner involving sewer work related to the city of Cincinnati's planned streetcar system won't harm or delay the project, city staffers said.
That's because the motion introduced by County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a streetcar foe, would only affect additional improvements sought by the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), said Chris Eilerman, the city's streetcar project manager. The city already has allocated $3 million of its own money to relocate manholes needed for the streetcar project and do some of MSD's other improvements.
A seven-member legislative board on Monday accepted federal funding to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income Ohioans for the next two years.
Republican Gov. John Kasich originally attempted to get the Medicaid expansion through the General Assembly, but he ultimately bypassed the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling with members of his own political party to embrace the expansion.
Kasich instead opted to go through the Controlling Board, an obscure panel that typically handles less contentious budget issues that keep with legislative intent.
Most Republican state representatives, including local Reps. Lou Terhar, Louis Blessing and Peter Stautberg, signed a letter in protest of the tactic. The letter invokes legal arguments against the governor’s decision and could be the basis for a lawsuit in the future.
“Our protest is not about the merits or lack of merit in expanding Medicaid,” the letter states. “Our protest goes to the fundamental form of government upon which our country was founded — a Republic of checks and balances and separation of powers.”
Republican legislators say they’re concerned about the government’s involvement in the health care system and whether the federal government can afford to pay for the Medicaid expansion. They argue it would be better to pursue Medicaid reforms instead of expanding the program.
On the other side, Democrats, in a rare alliance with a Republican governor, applauded Kasich for embracing a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Under Obamacare, the federal government asked states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. If states accept, the federal government pays for the full expansion through fiscal year 2016, and then gradually phases down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent of the expansion’s costs.
In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in fiscal year 2013.
The expansion is necessary to fill a so-called “coverage gap” under Obamacare and Ohio law. Without the expansion, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
The federally funded expansion is set to begin in 2014. It will cost the federal government nearly $2.6 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.
Local public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting its doors for good by the end of the year, ending nearly 25 years of public service.
The organization’s demise is a result of the city eliminating funding for Media Bridges in its latest budget, which was passed by City Council in May.
“It is with great sadness that I must announce that Media Bridges will close its doors by the end of 2013. The city has made it extremely clear that we will not be receiving any more funding from them. While we have tried many other avenues for revenue it has become clear that we will be unable to sustain operations beyond 2013,” Media
Bridges Executive Director Tom Bishop announced Tuesday in the organization’s newsletter.
The shutdown will be a steady process, with Media Bridges completely closing once its channels are transferred or Dec. 13 — whichever comes first.
The city’s budget cuts were originally considered in December, but City Council managed to restore some funding to keep the organization afloat. Prior to the partial restoration, Bishop had called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget.
City officials previously defended the cuts to Media Bridges, citing city surveys that ranked the program poorly in terms of budgetary importance. For the surveys, the city used meetings and mailed questionnaires to gauge public opinion.
But Bishop claims the surveys’ demographics were lopsided against low-income Cincinnatians, the income group that benefits the most from public access programs like Media Bridges.
For both the meeting-based and mail-in surveys, Bishop’s claim checks out. His concern is even directly acknowledged and backed in the documented survey results for the meetings: “Twenty-two percent of meeting participants earned less than $23,050 per year, compared to 40.8 percent of the population at large who earn less than $24,999 per year. While this is not representative of the population at large, the data does indicate strong participation from low income residents.”
Meanwhile, wealthier Cincinnatians were much better represented, with 11 percent of meeting participants making $150,000 or more per year despite only 6 percent of the city at large belonging to that income group, according to the survey results.
The same issue can be found in the mail-in survey: Only 22 percent of respondents made less than $25,000, while 10 percent made $150,000 or more.
“It’s ridiculous that they would call that representative of the city of Cincinnati,” Bishop says.
Instead of using its skewed survey results, Bishop argues the city should have looked at the 2010 Spring Greater Cincinnati Survey from the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research. In that survey, Cincinnati respondents were asked how important it was to provide recording equipment to citizens and neighborhoods so they can “produce educational and public access programs for cable television.” About 54.3 percent called it “very important,” 33.9 percent labeled it “somewhat important” and 11.7 percent said it was “not too important.”
City officials also defended the cuts by claiming that funding was only provided as a “one-year reprieve” after Media Bridges lost state funding that came through Time Warner Cable, which successfully lobbied to end its required contributions in 2011.
Bishop disputes the city’s claim, saying Media Bridges and its staff weren’t informed that the city funding was meant to be temporary — at least until it was too late.
Media Bridges is a public access media organization founded in 1988 that
allows anyone in Cincinnati to record video and sound for publicly
broadcasted television and radio. It also provides educational programs for people new to the process.
Although Media Bridges is closing down, the city is still funding CitiCable, which, among other programming, broadcasts City Council and county commissioner meetings, through franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner.
A media furor has erupted over a “newly released” letter to Pope Paul VI that indicates he and the Vatican knew about child sexual abuse by priests almost 50 years ago.
News accounts report the 1963 letter was released by attorneys in California who represented sexual abuse victims in the Los Angeles Diocese. In fact, those same attorneys have previously released numerous damning documents that got little media attention until now.
Facing term limits, Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley announced today that he would resign his seat Thursday to join the Keating Muething & Klekamp law firm and concentrate on development projects in East Price Hill.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, continues comparing Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency law to Stalinism and other extreme Soviet-era policies.
Seitz’s latest comparison, according to Columbus’ Business First, claims Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t need “Stalinist” mandates to pursue their inventions.
“It was not some Stalinist government mandating, ‘You must buy my stuff,’” Seitz said.
It’s not the first time Seitz made the comparison. In March, he said Ohio’s Clean Energy Law reminds him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.”
Seitz, a director of the conservative, oil-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), remains unsuccessful in his years-long push to repeal Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. He says the law picks winners and losers in the energy market by favoring Ohio-based efficient, renewable sources.
Environmentalists and other supporters of the law claim it helps combat global warming and encourages economy-boosting innovations in the energy market, including the adoption of more solar power in Cincinnati.
Seitz’s references to Stalin continue the long-popular Republican tactic of comparing economic policies conservatives oppose with socialism, communism and other scary-sounding ideas.
While Seitz’s argument makes for catchy rhetoric, there are a few key differences between Stalinism and Ohio’s Clean Energy Law:
Stalinism is a framework of authoritarian, communist policies pursued in the 20th century by Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. It involves a state takeover of various aspects of private life and the economy.
The Clean Energy Law is a policy established in 2008 by the democratic state of Ohio. The law sets benchmarks requiring utility companies to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.
Stalinism pushes out private markets and replaces them with an authoritarian government’s total command.
The Clean Energy Law sets standards and regulations for existing private businesses.
Stalinism saves Ohioans no money.
The Clean Energy Law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills over the next 12 years, according to a 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.
To enforce his policies, Stalin killed millions of people — a number so high that historians have trouble calculating exactly how many died under the Soviet leader’s reign.
To enforce the Clean Energy Law, Ohio officials have killed zero people.
Stalinism and other communist policies are widely considered unsustainable by economists and historians and a primary reason for the Soviet Union’s downfall.
The differences are pretty clear. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law might require some refining, and there might be better solutions to global warming, such as the carbon tax. But comparisons to Stalinism go too far.
Pro-choice groups are criticizing Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan for pulling money from Planned Parenthood and shifting federal dollars to “anti-choice” crisis pregnancy centers.
The Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan would redirect federal funding for family planning services in a way that would strip funding for Planned Parenthood and family planning providers.
During hearings at the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee today, multiple women’s health advocates, ranging from health experts to members of Planned Parenthood, said these services mostly benefit low-income women, particularly in rural areas. On the other side, representatives from anti-abortion groups spoke in support of the Ohio House Republicans’ measures, citing health care options, family values, abstinence and chastity.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, says the defunding measure has become a recurring trend for Ohio Republicans, who have taken up the Planned Parenthood measure multiple times in the past couple years. But she says the threat could have more weight this time around.
“This feels different,” Copeland says. “They’ve always kind of tried to hide it before. This time they were a lot more upfront about it. It seems like they may be willing to put political capital into this fight this time.”
A separate section of the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan redirects federal funding to a program that will fund crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which provide abstinence-only family planning services.
Some researchers have found abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health
found abstinence-only programs have no impact on rates for teenage
pregnancy or vaginal intercourse, while comprehensive programs that
include birth control education reduce rates.
A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Georgia that looked at data from 48 states concurred abstinence-only programs do not reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy. The study indicated states with the lowest teenage pregnancy rates tend to have the most comprehensive sex and HIV education programs.
Still, a 2010 study from a University of Pennsylvania researcher found abstinence-only education programs may delay sexual activity. The study, which tracked black middle school students over two years, found students in an abstinence-only program had lower rates of sexual activity than students in the comprehensive program.
Some supporters say the Ohio House Republicans’ budget measures aren’t specifically about Planned Parenthood, abortion or birth control. Instead, they argue they’re trying to establish more health care options for women.
But the providers that would be able to get more funding already apply for it; they just lose out to Planned Parenthood’s services, which are deemed superior by state officials who distribute the funds during the competitive distribution process.
Copeland says “no thinking person” should fall for the reasoning given by Republicans and supporters who say abortion is not one of their concerns.
“They’re trying to impose their morals on you,” Copeland says. “These are not health care experts. These are not people who are trying to find real solutions for the problems that real people face. These are people who want to impose their personal views, their personal morality on you.”
Some anti-abortion supporters, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, say abortion and broader cultural issues are absolutely part of the reason they support the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan.
“Our mission is to support the right to life from conception to natural death,” Leipold says. “Abortion happens to be a big problem right now because in the past 40 years it’s become part of the culture.”
She adds, “Now kids are learning that responsible sex means that you can have sex but just use birth control. That’s not supposed to be the attitude. The attitude is supposed to be that sex is for a committed relationship between a man and a woman in a marital relationship.”
During testimony today, Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, asked state legislators to support the organization’s numerous medical services, including women’s health, family planning and sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment.
Kight also said state and federal funds do not go to abortions. Planned Parenthood’s abortion services are instead funded by private donations.
At the hearings, Republican State Rep. Ron Maag asked Kight why Planned Parenthood doesn’t shut down its three abortion clinics in Ohio if those clinics are potentially threatening the “good work” Planned Parenthood does elsewhere. Kight said Planned Parenthood believes its abortion services are “good work.”