Hey all. Let’s talk about news for a minute.
Now that Union Terminal looks to be on its way to renovation and Music Hall has received significant contributions toward the cost of its own fix-up, some preservationists have focused again on Memorial Hall. The building, which sits next to Music Hall on the west side of Washington Park, was designed by renowned architect Samuel Hannaford and built in 1908. Its needs are not quite as large as its gargantuan neighbor: The total cost for renovations is expected to be about $8 million, mere chump change compared to the $120 million Music Hall renovations could run. Development group 3CDC is one of the main drivers of fundraising efforts. It asked Hamilton County Commissioners yesterday for a $1.5 million contribution from the county. Though commissioners wouldn’t commit to anything just yet, Commissioner Greg Hartmann has said some contribution is likely since the building is owned by the county.
• So I’m not a beer fan overall, but I love a good porter on a cold winter day. You know what else I love on a cold winter day (like today, for example)? Cincinnati chili. Having established those facts, let’s just say I’m intrigued by a new beer debuting soon. Blank Slate Brewing Co. has created the Cincy 3-way Porter, which has subtle notes of the spices that make Cincinnati chili famous (or infamous depending on your palate). Again: I like Cincy chili. I like a good porter. But can this possibly be good? Of course I’m going to try it and find out. One note to consider: According to this story in the Business Courier, the malt used to brew the beer is smoked with the distinctive spices — they don’t go in the beer itself. That hopefully means it doesn’t taste like sipping on a serving of Cincy’s favorite meat sauce that just happens to be 7 percent alcohol by volume. Though, hey, I might be open to that, too.
• Is there a way the $2.8 billion Brent Spence Bridge project might be funded without tolls? Don’t hold your breath just yet, but anti-toll groups hope so. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United is touting a plan proposed by Sens. Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer that would raise money for the federal Highway Trust Fund by giving U.S. corporations tax breaks to bring more of their estimated $2 trillion in foreign profits back to the U.S. If some of that money flows back here, prodded by a tax break, it could be taxed and the receipts used on infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge. At least, that’s what Northern Kentucky United hopes. The proposal is very similar to one that President Barack Obama has tucked into his budget, which he released yesterday. The anti-toll group says that’s a sign that things could be happening on the federal level and that a plan to use tolls to pay for the bridge’s replacement is premature.
“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the president has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United in a statement on the legislation. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund,” McNee concluded.
Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Steve Beshear of Kentucky presented their plan last week for the bridge, which includes tolls as part of the funding equation. Kasich has cited the increasing costs for the project while it’s delayed — $7 million a month, by some estimates — as a reason officials should move quickly. He claims there’s little chance the federal government will be forthcoming with funds for the project. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency this summer if Congress doesn’t approve new sources of income for infrastructure.
• The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati’s Police Department don’t reflect the area’s demographic makeup, according to data released by both departments and reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s department is 86 percent white and 12 percent black, though the county itself is 62 percent white and 26 percent black. A similar disparity exists in Cincinnati, which is 48 percent white and 45 percent black. Yet its police force is 67 percent white and 30 percent black. Both gaps match up with many other police forces around the country. A study by USA Today found that 80 departments out of 282 in cities with more than 100,000 people had greater than a 10 percentage-point gap between the proportion of black officers and black residents.
• Yesterday was a day for budgets. In addition to the release of President Obama’s budget proposal (more on that in a minute), Gov. John Kasich also released his financial proposals for Ohio’s next two years. Kasich looks to cut income taxes while raising sales taxes, among other moves, which could place more burden on the state’s low-income workers. Kasich has also suggested an increased tax exemption for some of those workers, but that exemption is small and may only account for two or three bucks more in a worker’s paycheck.
On the income tax side, Kasich seeks to cut the state’s rate by 23 percent over the next two years and end the state’s income tax for 900,000 business owners grossing less than $2 million a year. To pay for that, the state’s base sales tax rate will go up to 6.25 percent plus county and local sales taxes. In Hamilton County, the sales tax rate will go up to 7.5 percent. This continues a trend toward relying more on sales tax to fill the state's coffers, something progressive groups say has made the state's tax system more and more regressive over the last few years.
All told, the state will take in $500 million less over the next two years, a nice hefty tax cut Kasich can point to in order to rally the Republican base should he decide to run for president in 2016. You can read more about the finer points of Kasich’s budget in our story here.
• Finally, here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s wide-ranging, $4 trillion budget proposal. Obama looks to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy citizens and give middle class families tax breaks. He calls that plan “middle class economics,” though staunch conservative (and fellow Miami alum) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has his own name for it: “envy economics.” Those two monikers may foreshadow another long, arduous budget process between Obama and a mostly Republican Congress.
Other points of Obama’s budget: He has proposed the aforementioned plan for paying for infrastructure, a pay raise for federal workers and military personnel and a number of other proposals you can peruse in the story above. Also worth checking out: this breakdown of the budget by federal departments. Let’s play a little game of “one of these things is not like the other.” That’s right: Discretionary spending at the Department of Defense is a mind-blowing $585 billion. That’s more than every other department combined. Obama’s budget increases the DOD’s budget by 4 percent. That’s $23 billion — enough to increase the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by almost 50 percent. Just leaving that right there for you to chew on.
Gov. John Kasich is touting half a million dollars in tax cuts in his new budget proposal, released Feb. 2. But Ohio’s tax scheme could get more regressive if state lawmakers take it up as is.
The budget proposal would lower income taxes by 23 percent over the next two years and pay for it by raising sales taxes by .5 percent. All told, the proposal means $500 million less in taxes for Ohio residents.
Critics say lower-income residents will benefit least from the proposal. Kasich’s budget allows for a tax exemption increase for as many as 3 million low-income Ohio workers. But that exemption would mean only an extra few dollars per paycheck for most low-income families, according to most analyses. Another part of Kasich's budget proposal would require those making just over the poverty level (a bit more than $11,500 for a single person) to pay premiums on Medicaid. Those premiums would start at about $10 to $20.
Among the biggest moves in Kasich's proposal: a plan that would effectively eliminate the state’s income tax for more than 900,000 people who own small businesses grossing less than $2 million a year.
Studies suggest that the bottom fifth of Ohio earners pay nearly 7 percent of their income in sales taxes, while the top fifth of Ohio earners pay less than 1 percent of their income. A study conducted by liberal-leaning think tank Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found Ohio to have the 18th most regressive tax structure in the country.
"The Ohio income tax is critical to a fair tax system and one that pays for education, health and other key services," said Wendy Patton, a director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a January statement about the state’s tax structure. "Attempts to weaken it will either redistribute income from the poor and the middle class to the rich, or cut needed public services."
When Kasich took office, the income tax rate was nearly 6 percent and Ohio’s sales tax was 5.5 percent, though state lawmakers boosted it to 5.75 percent in 2013. Under Kasich’s new budget proposal, income tax will be just over 4 percent and sales tax will be 6.25 percent.
Conservatives have also criticized the budget. Critics on the right, including tea party-aligned state lawmakers, say most of the changes aren’t cuts, they’re “tax shifting” that doesn’t result in the state spending less money.
Kasich’s plan does call for some measures that could help lower-income residents, including raising the income level at which parents can qualify for subsidies on child care. Other parts of the budget progressives might find more amenable include an increase on taxes associated with fracking.
Correction: due to a typo, an earlier version of this post said Ohio's sales tax rate will be 6.5 percent. This has been corrected to 6.25 percent.
It sounds a little like an episode of a zany sitcom: a tea partying conservative from Kentucky and a classic California liberal team up to clean up some roads.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Jan. 29 that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would introduce a bill seeking to shore up the nation’s federal Highway Trust Fund. The announcement comes as fights over what to do about the nation’s looming infrastructure needs hit close to home.
The federal fund that helps pay for highway, bridge and transit projects could face insolvency this year if Congress doesn’t find new sources of money for infrastructure. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, local and state officials are currently wrangling over the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. The bridge is more than 50 years old and carries 160,000 cars a day — four times more than it was designed to hold. Cincinnati’s 83-year-old Western Hills Viaduct will also need to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $240 million. Studies by engineers have found that both bridges are structurally obsolete, though not immediately unsafe. Federal funds could go a long way toward making those projects reality.
"I am pleased to be working with Senator Boxer on a bipartisan solution to a tax and highway spending problem,” Paul said in a statement. “The interstate highway system is of vital importance to our economy. All across the country, bridges and roads are deficient and in need of replacement.”
Paul and Boxer’s bill proposes what is, in effect, a corporate tax cut: lowering the U.S. repatriation rate, or tax rate for foreign earnings, in order to incentivize U.S. companies to bring money back into the U.S. economy from foreign tax shelters. The proposed law would allow companies to voluntarily repatriate some of the estimated $2 trillion in off-shore corporate profits at a discounted tax rate of 6.5 percent. The program would require companies use that repatriated money to help build the economy. The money must be used for hiring or research and development, for instance, instead of executive raises. Taxes from the repatriated funds would go into the federal Highway Trust Fund for roads, bridges and other transit projects.
Paul did not mention regional projects like the Brent Spence Bridge specifically in statements about the proposal, though he has been active in the past in working to secure funding for replacing the bridge. It’s unclear if and when such projects would see a benefit from the bill, or exactly how much money it would raise should it pass into law.
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study conducted on a similar proposal in 2013 found that the move could boost America’s economy by more than $400 billion, according to a white paper released by the senators. President Barack Obama put a similar plan in his budget proposal, which he unveiled Feb. 2.
There are other proposals for shoring up infrastructure funds, both on the national level and here in the Tristate. Some in Congress have called for raising the gas tax, which currently helps pay for federal road and bridge maintenance. The rate hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled they won’t support an increase.
On the state level, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have drafted their own plans for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge here. The two say the project can’t wait much longer — they cite an estimate by engineers saying that the project gets $7 million more expensive every month — and that the federal government won’t come to the rescue any time soon. Their proposal involves a public-private partnership that would necessitate tolls, however, something that has caused bipartisan consternation in Northern Kentucky. Many officials there are dead set against tolls, which they say will hurt workers and businesses. That’s tipped Northern Kentucky United, an anti-toll group, toward Paul’s idea.
“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the President has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund.”
Kasich, on the other hand, likened counting on funds from the federal government to waiting on the tooth fairy in a news conference last week on his proposal.
Paul and Boxer are a surprising team. Paul, a tea party favorite and potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, usually takes highly conservative, libertarian stances on policy and spending matters. Boxer, on the other hand, is one of the chamber’s most liberal members. In her 32-year career in Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator, she fought for tighter gun control, more environmental protection measures and pro-choice causes. Boxer, who is 74, announced last month that she will not seek re-election.
“I hope this proposal will jumpstart negotiations on addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is already creating uncertainty that is bad for businesses, bad for workers and bad for the economy,” Boxer said in a statement about the bill. “I will also be working … on other proposals to pay for rebuilding our nation's aging transportation infrastructure."
For many Cincinnati natives, seeing Jess Lamb perform her audition in Kansas City for the American Idol judges was the first time they had ever heard her powerful and emotive voice or seen her honest, determined spirit. But for anyone who has their ears to the ground in Cincinnati’s local music scene (or has drunkenly wandered into Japps on a Tuesday night) knew that Lamb was more than ready for the limelight. Lamb has been performing all across town for years and has consistently turned heads with her stable of classics and originals, paired with her pronounced and technical work on the keys. (In 2013, Lamb was nominated for an R&B/Funk/Soul Cincinnati Entertainment Award and performed at that year’s ceremony, a mini-clip of which was used in her initial biographical segment on Idol.)
But a rise in local and national exposure brings a great deal of opportunities and challenges tied together. And it is those opportunities and challenges that my series of posts following Lamb’s experience will reflect upon. Lamb is an indie artist to the core; she writes and records with many different projects beyond her solo work. She plays all around town in the hopes of steadily increasing her visibility. But how does an artist used to local coverage deal with the sudden influx in national attention? What effect will American Idol have on local attendance or the reception at her shows? Will there be any long term changes or will this ultimately be a flash-in-the-pan experience for Lamb? These are the types of questions that will be explored as the show carries on.
Of course, to answer where Lamb will be going, it helps to know how she even became a part of American Idol. It all happened by chance.
“I went to Columbus for what they call the ‘Bus Tour.’ Basically you go down there and stand in front of executive producers of the show. From there, they just call you and tell you where to go next. You’re just playing the waiting game after that,” Lamb says.
Lamb and her friend’s spontaneous trip to Columbus led to the next stage of the journey — performing for Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. (one of Lamb’s musical idols).
There was a month in between both auditions, leaving plenty of time to think and speculate. After the audition in Kansas City and the announcement of her participation on the show, Lamb has been speaking to the media while still finding time for her day job and performing at night.
With “Hollywood Week,” featuring the singers who made it past the initial auditions, approaching, Lamb’s Amercan Idol adventure is just about to truly take off. Here at home, she’s already seen a change in her local reception.
“I’ve felt a lot of support from the people that I look up to. Frankly, I’m shocked at the support. I’m shocked that a lot of people see where I’m going with this,” Lamb says.
After her audition aired, Lamb played a show in West Chester, where she was greeted by an entirely different type of crowd than the Main Street district mainstays. Instead of young people buying her shots, she was met by a group of older women who brought her flowers.
The crowds aren’t just growing at her shows either; her online presence has grown as well. American Idol fans have flocked to Lamb’s Facebook, Instagram, email box and Reverbnation page. So many, in fact, that Lamb is having a hard time keeping up with all the attention.
“There’s been so much [growth] on social media, so many great emails. I’m trying to respond to every email and I have to take hours out of every day to do it and it’s amazing, I love it,” Lamb says.
In many ways, that excitement is indicative of Lamb and her Idol journey thus far. It’s been a whirlwind of activity that is guaranteed to grow as the show progresses. But she has taken it all in stride and is taking every opportunity the show has provided her. We’ll just have to tune in to see what other opportunities arise in the coming weeks.
The Hollywood Week episodes of American Idol air locally this Wednesday and Thursday on Fox 19.
Good morning all. Here’s what’s up in the news today:
City Manager Harry Black today announced that Thomas B. Corey will be the head of the city’s recently created Department of Economic Inclusion. The department is charged with increasing the availability of city contracts for women and minority owned businesses in the city. Corey is another former Baltimore official tapped by Black to lead a city department here. He was most recently The City of Baltimore Law Department’s Chief Solicitor. He will start Feb. 9.
• Average rents are going up in Greater Cincinnati, according to a survey commissioned by real estate company CBRE Cincinnati. Some of that is due to pricey new apartments in hot parts of town — the average rent on a newly-constructed apartment is over $1,000 a month in Cincinnati. But part of it is also swelling demand across all income brackets for apartments, according to the survey. You could blame pesky Millennials and our aversion to homeownership, but it seems like demand for rental units is going up across the board.
While we’re talking about rent, as we’ve reported more than a few times, Cincinnati’s affordable housing supply is stretched to the limit. There’s currently a 5,000-person waiting list to get a Section 8 voucher for one of the 11,000 units that accept them in the region. This Cincinnati Enquirer story questions whether that’s in part because Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority’s inspection standards have gotten too strict. The number of units that have failed such inspections has risen over the past couple years as CMHA started enforcing more stringent requirements on landlords. Some of the violations seem trivial — mismatched paint, hinges that need replaced — but others detailed in the story are serious, including windows that don’t open and mold problems. The story quotes one woman who actually had to move out of her home, and it was due to mold in the house. The Enquirer teased this story over the weekend with the provocative headline “Which County Agency is Leaving Residents Homeless?” But affordable housing advocates and neighborhood boosters have actually cheered the new standards. The story doesn’t mention a big piece of context: the abysmal conditions at some Section 8 rental units over the past few years. While reporting for this story published over the summer, CityBeat ran across truly shocking municipal code violations at Section 8 properties in Price Hill, for instance. These included sewage in rental unit basements, tenants without heat and water, doors that didn’t open and other major violations.
• Anti-toll groups in Northern Kentucky are fired up about statements Gov. John Kasich made last week regarding the Brent Spence Bridge. Kasich suggested that opponents of a plan to build a new bridge along one of America’s busiest shipping routes have their “heads in the sand.” That didn’t sit too well with the bipartisan group of lawmakers, businessmen and others who have come together to oppose the possibility of tolls for a new bridge. The group started a strongly-worded online petition that more than 2,000 supporters have signed so far. Kasich's plan, offered with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, would create tolls to help fund the $2.8 billion project, but would also give a 50 percent discount to daily commuters and work to keep the price as low as possible. Opponents say tolls are unacceptable and that the states should reach out to the federal government for money to fund a more modest bridge update.
"On Wednesday, Gov. Kasich stood at a press conference – in a building that once housed companies he personally recruited away from Kentucky – and insulted Northern Kentucky and our elected leaders," it says. "If he cannot control himself, he should stay out of Kentucky."
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed funding in his recent budget that would create a new community health program aimed at reducing the state’s infant mortality rate, which is among the worst in the nation. The plan would fund community organizations to connect women in low-income areas with prenatal medical care available through Medicaid. Cincinnati's infant mortality rate is especially bad; the city has the second-highest rate of infant death in the nation.
• Ohio has announced it will delay all six executions it had scheduled in 2015 as it searches for new sources for execution drugs. The announcement comes after the state halted its two-drug execution method last month due to questions about its efficacy. Last year, an execution carried out with the two-drug method took almost half an hour, and the inmate involved was heard gasping for breath.
• The United Steelworkers Union yesterday launched one of the largest national labor strikes in recent memory. USW, which is seeking higher wages and better safety measures, called for nearly 4,000 employees who work in several oil refineries across the country to abstain from work until new labor contracts are signed with several major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. Experts say it could drive up gas prices as refinery capacity is limited. It’s the largest walkout since 1980, when USW held a three-month strike. News reports indicate that workers in other refineries may also join in the walkout.
THE BLACK & BROWN COMEDY GET DOWN: The Black & Brown Comedy Get Down is an all-headliner tour of who’s who in today’s comic scene: Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer, George Lopez, Charlie Murphy, D.L. Hughley and Eddie Griffin. 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30. $49.75-$65.75. U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway St., Downtown, usbankarena.com.
SIGNATURE SERIES BLUES & BREWS AT MEMORIAL HALL: Season two of Memorial Hall’s Signature Series Blues & Brews features a performance from internationally renowned Tennessee Blues band The Ori Naftaly Band, plus food from Eli's BBQ and The Phoenix and Rhinegeist beers. 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30. $47-$57. Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincinnatimemorialhall.com.
BEEFSTEAK CLUB DINNER: Bockfest's Beefsteak Club Dinner's misleading name derives from an elite club that has formed annually since 1896, in which prominent Cincinnatians gather to pair beer and beef in the ambience of a brewery. This year’s event will be held on the third floor of the Hudepohl Brewery bottling building and feature roasted goat and pig (with sides and dessert) instead of steak. 6.30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31. $50 single dinner ticket. Hudepohl Brewery, E. McMicken Ave., Over-the-Rhine, bockfest.com.
CINCINNATI WORLD CINEMA OSCAR SHORTS PRESENTATION: Cincinnati World Cinema hosts two days of screenings to bring you the five short documentary films nominated for this year’s Academy Award in Documentary Short Subject, plus two additional Oscar short-list films. The nominees offer an astonishing degree of diversity in respect to genre, narrative and style, capturing the full spectrum of documentary filmmaking in ways that, in some years, is lacking in the main feature categories. 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31; 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1. $10; $12 at the door. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, Ky., cincyworldcinema.org.
SUPERJAM 2015: Though it’s (obviously) wintertime, organizers of SuperJam 2015 will create an outdoor music festival atmosphere indoors at Tori’s Station in Fairfield on Saturday. The all-day show features an eclectic array of some of the area’s best bands, including reigning Bluegrass Cincinnati Entertainment Award winners Rumpke Mountain Boys, plus Rising Smoke, Peridoni, Sassafraz, The Almighty Get Down (which just won the Best Live Act CEA), Tropidelic and Elementree Livity Project. 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31. $30. Tori’s Station, 74 Donald Drive, Fairfield, superjam2015.com.
THE HISTORY OF CINCINNATI MUSIC: The presentations on The History of Cincinnati Music that David (“Uncle Dave”) Lewis has been presenting at the Main Library over the last year or so have been so good — so enlightening and entertaining — that one wishes he could do it for much larger crowds at the Aronoff Center or Music Hall. But because his presentations have been on Wednesday evenings, many haven’t been able to attend. But now there’s a second chance. The Main Library’s music librarian, Steven Kemple, has arranged for Lewis to present reprises of his past lectures at 3 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month in the Reading Garden. It starts tomorrow with The Hymn Composers of Cincinnati: Philips, Bliss & Doane, and Lewis will have guest pianist Jeremy Stevenson with him. All lectures are free.
THE OTHER PLACE AT ENSEMBLE THEATRE: Sharr White’s troubling, engrossing and sometimes humorous drama The Other Place debuted on Broadway a year ago; Ensemble Theatre’s D. Lynn Meyers is staging its regional premiere, featuring veteran actress Regina Pugh as the enigmatic Juliana Smithton, a scientist renowned for her expertise in pharmaceuticals. She’s highly respected as a professional, but she’s becoming unhinged as a result of divorce and being estranged from her daughter. Through Feb. 15. $18-$44. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-3555, ensemblecincinnati.org.
The presentations on The History of Cincinnati Music that David (“Uncle Dave”) Lewis has been presenting at the Main Library over the last year or so have been so good — so enlightening and entertaining — that one wishes he could do it for much larger crowds at the Aronoff Center or Music Hall. Or as a professor at University of Cincinnati — he’d be great there. He combines his original research with recordings and archival film footage and still photographs (when available).
One of his presentations, about Homer Rodeheaver, whose Cincinnati-based publishing company and record label were pioneers of sacred music and who was also close to the famous 1920s preacher Billy Sunday, got a nod as Best Arts Lecture last year from CityBeat.
But because his presentations have been on Wednesday evenings, many haven’t been able to attend. But now there’s a second chance. The Main Library’s music librarian, Steven Kemple, has arranged for Lewis to present reprises of his past lectures at 3 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month in the Reading Garden.
It starts tomorrow with The Hymn Composers of Cincinnati: Philips, Bliss & Doane, and Lewis will have guest pianist Jeremy Stevenson with him. All lectures are free.
Looking ahead beyond tomorrow, here’s the 2015 schedule so far for Lewis’ Saturday encore presentations:
At the same time, Lewis is continuing with his new lectures on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Here is the schedule for those to date:
Good morning! I’ll be brief in my news update this morning, since I’m also keeping an eye on today’s White House task force on 21st century policing taking place at the University of Cincinnati today and tomorrow. You can live stream the event here. Anyway, here are a few bits of news floating around today:
The director of Cincinnati’s emergency medical service is asking for more money to respond to the region’s ongoing heroin crisis, saying that the crisis is getting worse every month in the city. One of the big costs the city’s emergency responders are encountering is Narcan, a drug used to treat heroin overdoses. The drug is costly, and the number of overdoses keeps climbing. EMS District Chief Cedric Robinson says seven overdoses a day happen in Cincinnati and that the number is climbing. The city’s expenditures on Narcan have nearly tripled in the past year. In 2013, the city spent about $21,000 on the drug. In 2014, that jumped to $60,000.
• Will some parts of the Greater Cincinnati area fail new, more stringent federal air quality standards? It seems like a possibility. The region barely passed current air quality tests last year, and several counties, including Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont and Campbell Counties, failed in 2013. Standards from the Environmental Protection Agency could get tougher by next fall, meaning that the region could be subject to new oversight from the agency. Hamilton County exceeded guidelines for ozone, one of the pollutants measured by the EPA, on only four days last year under the old standards. Under proposed new standards, it would have gone over the limit by more than 20. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club are cheering the new rules — they’ll be better for residents’ health, saving millions in healthcare costs. But businesses say the costs of compliance will be high. They’re lobbying against the new standards, of course.
• Now that he’s officially announced he’s running for U.S. Senate, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has started staffing up, tapping former Battleground Texas Democratic strategist Ramsey Reid as his campaign manager. Before his stint working to try and turn deeply Republican Texas purple, Reid was also a big part of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He’s also working with two political strategy firms: a firm led by Obama campaign veterans called 270 Strategies; and Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, which helped him win his council seat.
While Sittenfeld gears up for what may be a tough Democratic primary, his potential Republican opponent incumbent Sen. Rob Portman is also powering up his campaign. Portman has chosen high-profile Republican strategist Corry Bliss to manage his campaign. Bliss was last called in to turn around Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ last Senate campaign after he came under a strong primary challenge that threatened to unseat him.
• Gov. John Kasich has called for eliminating Ohio’s income tax for small businesses, a move that looks likely to bum out conservatives and progressives alike. The staunch conservatives in Ohio’s state House love the idea of cutting taxes, of course, but aren’t down with Kasich’s plan to, you know, actually pay for those tax cuts by increasing taxes on cigarettes and oil. They say that’s not a tax cut and that they want the state spending less money in general, even after the state’s budget has been slashed to the bone over the last few years. Progressives, on the other hand, say past income tax cuts have been deeply regressive. A 2013 cut paid for by boosting the state’s sales tax a quarter percent shifted the tax burden toward Ohio’s lowest earners, progressives say, and Kasich’s new proposal would further shift that burden. Under Kasich’s plan, almost all businesses run as sole proprietorships, or businesses owned by a single person who reports business profits as personal income, would not need to file state income tax. A business would be exempt from the income tax so long as its sales are under $2 million.
• Finally, if Bill Gates told you to be afraid of computers, would you listen? Gates revealed that he’s very worried about the potential threat artificial intelligence, or AI, could pose to humanity in coming decades. Gates revealed his concerns in response to a question he received during a Reddit "Ask me Anything" session. During his AMA, Gates also expressed optimism about the near future when it comes to computing. He envisions robots able to pick produce and do other mundane tasks flawlessly. It’s when the robots get smarter, he says, that we have to worry. His concern echoes that of other technology magnates like Tesla founder Elon Musk, who called AI “summoning the demon” at a symposium in October. I feel like I’m summoning the demon every time I open Microsoft Word, which is a nightmarishly vexing program, but that’s a whole other subject Gates should be addressing.