If it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments, Cincinnati might not face an operating budget gap in 2015. The city has lost roughly $26 million in annual state aid since 2010, according to city officials, while the budget gap for 2015 is estimated at nearly $21 million. The reduction in state aid helps explain why Cincinnati continues dealing with budget gaps after years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes. Still, some council members argue Democratic council members should stop blaming Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature for the city's problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.
Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department yesterday explained the local increase in homicides to City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. Police officials said gang-related activity, particularly activity related to the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade, is to blame for the spike in crime in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati. In particular, it appears disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories led to turf wars and other violent acts. Police also cautioned, "Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature."
The Democratic primary election for governor heated up yesterday after Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune called Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's commitment to blacks "appalling" in an email obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Prominent Democrats at the state and local level responded to the criticisms as more evidence Portune shouldn't continue to run and threaten Democrats' chances of a clean gubernatorial campaign. Portune announced his intention to run last week, despite calls from top Democrats to stay out of the race.
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Cincinnati might not be facing an operating budget gap in 2015 if it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments.
Following cuts approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature, Cincinnati officials estimate the city is getting $26 million less in state funding in 2015 than the city did in 2010.
At the same time, the city is facing a $21 million operating budget gap in 2015.
The reduction in state aid helps explain why the local budget gap remains after several years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes.
“It sounds like the city is doing a good job,” said Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach at Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “Where we’re seeing these obstacles is these outside sources.”
Independent Councilman Christopher Smitherman countered that the cuts to the local government fund and the elimination of the estate tax, both of which drove the reduction in state aid, have been known since 2011 and 2012.
“Public policy makers have, in my opinion, continued to make decisions as if those public policy decisions from the governor’s chair or from the state … weren’t in play,” Smitherman said. “This is not new information.”
Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn agreed. He said it’s time to stop blaming the governor for the city’s problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.
Still, Winburn acknowledged he would be willing to meet with state officials to bring more revenue back to Cincinnati.
“Maybe Republicans will be willing to meet with a Republican like me and see if we can bring some money back to Cincinnati,” Winburn said.
Republicans at the state level passed cuts to the local government fund as a way to balance the 2012-2013 budget, which faced a projected gap of nearly $8 billion in 2011. They then approved the elimination of the estate tax — often labeled the “death tax” by opponents — in 2012.
But with Ohio’s economy slowly recovering from the Great Recession, the state budget looks to be in much better shape. The 2012-2013 budget ended with a $2 billion surplus because of higher-than-expected revenues.
Ohio Democrats point to the surplus as evidence the Republican-controlled state government could undo the $1 billion in cuts to local government funding. They argue the cuts have hurt local governments and forced cities to slash basic services, including public safety.
Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department testified in front of City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee Monday to address the local increase in homicides.
The city’s homicide rate hit 25 per 100,000 residents in 2013, compared to the U.S. rate of 4.7 per 100,000 in 2012, following a spike in homicides in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati, according to police statistics.
“The concern has been the sheer number of homicides we experienced in 2013 and the number of juvenile victims we had this year,” said Assistant Chief Dave Bailey.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman also highlighted the high levels of black-on-black crime, which Chief Jeffrey Blackwell agreed are unacceptable across the country.
“My fear is that my son, who’s African-American … is going to be killed by another African-American,” Smitherman said. “That’s what those stats are saying.”
The key driver of the increases, according to police, is gang-related activity, particularly activity involving the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade.
“If our theory is correct, most of these homicides involve narcotic sales, respect and retaliation,” Bailey said.
Chief Blackwell explained the increase in homicides appears to be particularly related to disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories.
“Criminal territories have been disrupted, and we’ve seen an increase in turf wars and neighborhood situations between young people,” he said. “Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn asked what council could do to help remedy the situation.
“We are significantly short of police officers, so we desperately need a recruit class,” Blackwell responded. “We need to improve our technology platform here in the police department.”
Blackwell cautioned that there’s not a direct correlation between more police officers and less homicides, but he said another recruit class could help the city meet basic needs.
Flynn claimed council is very willing to meet those needs, given the importance of public safety to the city’s prosperity.
“If we’re not safe and we don’t have the perception that we’re a safe city, none of the rest of the great things we do as a city are going to help,” he said.
How council meets those needs while dealing with fiscal concerns remains to be seen, considering Mayor John Cranley and a majority of council members ran on the promise of structurally balancing the city’s operating budget for the first time in more than a decade.
City officials have vowed to avoid raising taxes and cutting basic services, which makes the task of balancing the budget all the more difficult. Advancing promises of more spending for the police department further complicates the issue, even if it’s politically advantageous in a city seriously concerned about public safety.
Cincinnati Police will hold several town hall meetings in
the next week to hear concerns from citizens. The meetings will span
across all local districts:
• District 2: Jan. 7, Medpace, Inc., 5375 Medpace Way.
• District 3: Jan. 8, Elder HS Schaeper Center, 3900 Vincent.
• District 1 and Central Business District: Jan. 9, River of Life Church, 2000 Central Parkway.
• District 5: Jan. 13, Little Flower Church, 5560 Kirby Ave..
• District 4: Jan. 14, Church of the Resurrection, 1619 California Ave.
Correction: The local homicide rate for 2013 was 25 per 100,000 residents, contrary to the 15.5 per 100,000 rate cited by police officials to City Council.
Tea party leader Ted Stevenot won’t run against Gov. John Kasich in a Republican primary after all. The development came just four days after Stevenot announced his candidacy. Stevenot said his decision to pull out had nothing to do with his running mate’s tax problems, which The Columbus Dispatch uncovered shortly after Stevenot announced his intention to run. Stevenot’s withdrawal comes despite building tea party opposition against Kasich over his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion and his unwillingness to support anti-union “right-to-work” legislation.The debate over same-sex marriage reached the state attorney general’s race Friday when Democratic candidate David Pepper published an online petition calling on Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop the state-sanctioned legal battle against a local gay couple. On Dec. 23, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that state officials must recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates, including the union of Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur. But the state is appealing the ruling. DeWine’s office said it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to appeal Black’s decision. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment whether he advised for or against appeal.
When Pepper and DeWine face off in the November election, same-sex marriage legalization could appear on the ballot as well — despite LGBT groups’ disagreement over the ballot initiative’s timing.
With the parking privatization plan presumably dead, Mayor John Cranley and City Council plan to address what to do with Cincinnati’s lackluster parking system in the next couple months. By all accounts, the system is broken and in need of upgrades. The question is how to fund the upgrades and leverage parking revenue so it can better finance basic services and development projects. When asked whether privatization is still on the table, Cranley says he’s only open to leasing parking garages, not parking meters, to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.
Another issue looming for city officials: Their desire to structurally balance the budget without raising taxes or draconian spending cuts. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.Frigid weather led area schools to close today, including the region’s public universities. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.
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The debate over same-sex marriage came to the forefront of Ohio’s attorney general race after Democratic candidate David Pepper drew up an online petition calling on Attorney General Mike DeWine to drop a court battle against a local gay couple.
Pepper’s petition is in direct response to the legal battle surrounding Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who legally married in Maryland last year and won legal recognition of their marriage in Arthur’s Ohio death certificate. (Arthur passed away after suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurological disease that causes muscles to rapidly deteriorate.)
The case originally applied only to Obergefell and Arthur, but U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on Dec. 23 cited equal protection grounds to force state officials to acknowledge gay marriages in all Ohio death certificates.
With DeWine’s office acting as the attorneys in the case, the state intends to appeal the ruling.
The attorney general’s office told CityBeat it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to decide whether to appeal the ruling. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment on whether DeWine offered legal advice for or against the appeal.
But DeWine previously defended his intention to uphold Ohio’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which voters approved in 2004.
“Our job is to defend Ohio’s constitution and defend what voters have voted on,” he told WKSU Public Radio.
In his petition, Pepper argues it’s DeWine’s duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect the local couple’s court-established marriage rights.
“What a waste of taxpayer dollars, and what a misuse of an office whose duty is to stand up to — not for — the unconstitutional treatment of Ohioans,” the petition reads.
While DeWine and Pepper will face off in the upcoming November ballot, same-sex marriage could appear on the ballot as well — despite disagreement among LGBT groups on the timing.
Pepper’s petition can be read and signed here.
Ohio and various other states passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they did in the previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The findings indicate that the latest Republican-backed abortion restrictions, which were passed through Ohio’s two-year state budget last June, were part of a broader trend that’s culminated across the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010. The trend could play a pivotal political role: Ohio Democrats have made their opposition to the abortion restrictions a central part of their campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents who hold top executive offices in the state.
One of the candidates expected to join the tea party ticket in a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich appears to have personal tax problems. Brenda Mack, tea party leader Ted Stevenot’s expected running mate, is linked to nearly $60,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes and penalties, according to government records in Mahoning and Cuyahoga counties analyzed by The Columbus Dispatch. Mack refuses to comment on the tax problems until a Tuesday press conference in which she and Stevenot are expected to officially announce their candidacies for the May 6 primary.
Former Mayor Charlie Luken says he will run for Hamilton County probate judge. The Democratic candidate will likely face off against Republican Ted Winkler, a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge. Luken recently garnered the public spotlight for his support for Mayor John Cranley’s campaign.Cincinnati’s homicide rate for victims younger than 18 rose to 1 in 7 in 2013 and 2012, up from 1 in 10 from 2000 through 2011, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Four of the juvenile victims were 1-year-old or younger, including a fetus who died after the mother was strangled to death in April.
Four seats on the 19-member Ohio Board of Education remain unfilled, including two seats that have been vacant for months, long past the 30-day deadline Gov. Kasich has under state law to name a replacement. Administration officials said they’re aware of the deadline, but they intend to find the best fit for the position before moving forward with an appointment. “It’s far more important to us to find the right person than putting warm bodies on the board,” Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols told The Columbus Dispatch.
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Ohio was among various states in the nation that passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than the entire previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Between 2011 and 2013, states passed 205 new restrictions on abortion. Between 2001 and 2010, states passed only 189 new restrictions.
The trend is unsurprising for Ohio, which the Guttmacher Institute says has been “hostile to abortion” since 2000, but the timeline shows a clear shift in state policies around the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010.
Ohio’s latest restrictions were passed last June by Ohio Republicans through the two-year state budget.
Among other restrictions, one measure forces doctors to perform an external ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and tell her if a heartbeat is detected and the statistical probability of the fetus making it to birth.
Ohio and Oklahoma were also the only states in 2013 to pass restrictions on federal funding for family planning providers, the Guttmacher Institute claims.
Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, insist they don’t use public funds for abortions, instead funding the procedure with the help of private contributions.
But Ohio Republicans, who predominantly oppose abortion rights, went through with the restrictions anyway, ultimately hitting some family planning service providers that don’t even offer abortions.
“Members of the House who have issues with Planned Parenthood have only issues with the abortion services,” Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, told CityBeat last June. “The rest of what Planned Parenthood provides, I imagine they have no issue with whatsoever.”
Ohio Democrats, particularly gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, have made their opposition to the anti-abortion measures part of their campaigns to unseat Gov. John Kasich and other Ohio Republicans who hold top executive positions in the state. But given the Guttmacher Institute’s timeline, reversing the trend could require a radical shift in the state government of the past 14 years.
Ohio’s leading LGBT groups still disagree whether same-sex marriage should appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but FreedomOhio says it’s continuing with efforts to put the issue to a public vote within a year. The debate could decide when gay couples in Ohio will get the same rights already granted to couples in other states. In its defense, FreedomOhio cites polling that shows its amendment has support from 56 percent of Ohio voters. But that same poll also put Ohioans within the margin of error — 47 percent in favor and 48 percent in opposition — on the general question of same-sex marriage legalization, which other LGBT groups point to as a sign Ohio needs more time before it’s ready.
Clermont County tea party leader Ted Stevenot will mount a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich. Stevenot has long criticized Kasich for his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which now allows anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll for Medicaid. Stevenot has also called on Kasich to support anti-union legislation commonly known as “right-to-work.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s challenge against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is off to a rough start: A former law partner said Portune isn’t “ethically … suited to be governor,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Portune on Monday announced his intent to challenge FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, despite opposition from various state Democrats.Commentary: “What to Watch in 2014.”
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Democrats face a potential wrinkle in their campaign to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich following Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s announcement Monday that he will run for governor of Ohio.
At a public press conference, Portune said he intends to mount a primary challenge against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who previously looked like the Democrats’ presumptive nominee.
In justifying his announcement, Portune claimed he had heard “some rumblings” from rank-and-file Democrats to offer more options in the governor’s race.
“This is an honest effort to give Democrats choice,” Portune said.
Some Democrats might appreciate the choice following a scandal that threw FitzGerald’s choice for lieutenant governor, State Sen. Eric Kearney, off the ticket. Kearney withdrew after multiple reports uncovered he and his family owe hundreds of thousands in unpaid taxes.
But much of the Democratic establishment seems to have responded with contempt by portraying Portune’s announcement as an unnecessary hurdle in the 2014 election.
Likening the Democratic primary election to an internal family discussion, Portune denied accusations that a primary campaign would cripple the party’s chances of winning the gubernatorial election.
“Primaries allow you to talk about the issues. They generate momentum,” he said.
Several Democrats took to social media to publicly disapprove of Portune’s announcement.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern tweeted that he’s “excited about our endorsed Democrats,” meaning FitzGerald.
Cincinnati council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld also restated on Twitter that they will support FitzGerald for governor.
“Todd Portune has been a client and someone I've admired for a long time,” Seelbach wrote. “But the last thing we need is a divisive primary.”
Despite Gov. John Kasich’s claims to the contrary, the only miracle in Ohio’s economy might be how bad the state is doing compared to the rest of the nation.
The proof: Ohio’s economy was among just two states in the
nation that actually worsened during September through November compared to August through October, according
to the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Beyond Ohio’s borders, Alaska also worsened, two states remained stable and the rest of the nation moved in a generally positive direction.
In other words, while 46 states’ economies moved in a generally positive direction, Ohio actually got worse.
The measures come from the State Coincident Index issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia every month. The index combines several economic indicators to gauge the condition of each state’s economy. The research department then gauges whether the index improved or worsened after the latest month’s data is taken into account.
With the gubernatorial election now less than one year away, the sorry state of Ohio’s economy could prove a bad sign for Gov. Kasich’s re-election.
Kasich, a Republican, came into office as Ohio’s economy began dashing out of the Great Recession stronger than most of the nation — a trend Kasich took to calling the “Ohio miracle.”
Ed FitzGerald, Kasich’s likely Democratic challenger, has criticized the claim in the past few months as Ohio’s economy showed more signs of worsening despite Kasich’s promises that his policies would keep the state in the right direction.
One of those policies was privatizing Ohio’s development agency and effectively turning it into JobsOhio. In less than three years, the agency has been riddled in multiple scandals following accusations from Democrats that the JobsOhio board hosts various conflicts of interests and lacks transparency when recommending who should get state tax credits.
Kasich also pushed and approved an across-the-board income tax cut earlier in 2013 through the two-year state budget. But because the income tax cut came with a sales tax hike, left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s tax cut heavily favors the wealthy, which calls into question whether the tax cut will actually help Ohio’s middle class or economy.
For FitzGerald and other Democrats, the challenge is advocating a progressive agenda that stands in contrast to Kasich’s policies. Although they have plenty of criticisms, it remains unclear what Democrats could do if — as looks almost certain — Republicans continue to hold Ohio’s legislative chambers.
Then there’s the question of whether state policies matter much, if at all. Economists generally agree that state officials tend to dramatize the economic impact of their policies when much bigger factors are at play, particularly as globalization reshapes the national and global economies.
For now, one thing is clear: Kasich’s policies haven’t been enough to turn around Ohio’s sinking economy throughout the past three months.