Today's an expensive day for Councilman Chris Seelbach.
That's because Seelbach is writing a check today for $1,218.59 to the city of Cincinnati to get local hyper-conservative "watchdog" group COAST to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., to accept an award for instigating positive change was an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
As a refresher, we're talking about the trip when Seelbach was one of 10 community leaders around the nation selected to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting the city's LGBT community — particularly through his efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the city's fire and police departments and requiring anyone accepting city funding to follow a non-discrimination policy — a national recognition of championing Cincinnati's progression toward social justice in the past few years.
In an email from his campaign, he says that the city's law department wants to move forward with the lawsuit because the allegations are so frivolous, but Seelbach decided to just use his own personal money to prevent the city from having to spend close to $30,000 of the same taxpayer money COAST is complaining about to prove that they're wrong.
On Aug. 28, Chris Finney, chief crusader at COAST, sent a letter to the office of the city solicitor alleging that the city had committed a "misapplication of corporate funds" by sponsoring Chris Seelbach's May trip to Washington, D.C., complaining that Seelbach and his staffers "upgraded" their hotel rooms.
Curp says that the rooms weren't only never upgraded — Seelbach and his staffers shared rooms — but that the councilman didn't even request reimbursement for several other eligible expense, like parking, meals and taxi fares — and flew out of Louisville, Ky., to take advantage of cheaper airfare.
City Solicitor John Curp's five-page response to Finney, he refutes every claim made by COAST and ends the letter by citing an Ohio Supreme Court case that effectively ruled that private citizens (like Chris Finney and all the other COASTers) constantly contesting official acts and expenditures doesn't benefit the city and should only be allowed when it could cause serious public injury if ignored. Here's Curp's full response:
New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease. The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city: It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire various private operators from around the country to manage the assets. The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and to plug budget gaps.
Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans
to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive
taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the
sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into
law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered:
It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised
sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.
A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.
A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.
Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons, calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100 degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.
Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.
Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.
An analysis released June 26 found Ohio’s top 1 percent would get the biggest breaks from the tax plan included in the final version of the two-year state budget, while the state’s poorest would pay more under the plan.
The analysis, conducted by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy for public policy think tank Policy Matters Ohio, shows the tax plan’s slew of tax cuts and hikes balance out to disproportionately favor the wealthy in terms of dollars and percents.
Meanwhile, the bottom 20 percent would pay about $12, or 0.1 percent, more in taxes. The second-lowest 20 percent would see their taxes go down by $5, rounded to 0 percent. The middle 20 percent would see a tax cut of $9, which is also rounded to 0 percent.
Policy Matters criticizes the tax plan, claiming the revenue should go to other programs, not tax cuts.
“Rather than approving a tax plan that will further shift Ohio’s tax load from the most affluent to low- and middle-income residents, we should direct those dollars into needed public services,” said Zach Schiller, Policy Matters Ohio research director, in a statement. “That includes restoring support for local governments and schools, and bolstering human services, from foodbanks to child care.”
Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, says the tax plan is supposed to provide an economic boost to almost everyone, not any specific group.
“The tax plan is going to provide an overall tax cut for nearly all Ohioans,” he says. “What this plan intends to do is not disproportionately favor the wealthy at all.”
The broad tax cuts, Republicans claim, should provide a boost to Ohio’s economy that will spur further job growth.
But Schiller argues the tax cut ultimately won’t create jobs: “A 21-percent cut that was approved in 2005 has not kept Ohio’s job market from underperforming that of the country as a whole during and after the last recession.”
The tax plan cuts income taxes for all Ohioans and particularly business owners, but it balances the cuts by hiking sales and property taxes.
Specifically, the budget cuts income taxes for all Ohioans by 10 percent over three years, gives business owners a 50-percent tax break on up to $250,000 of annual net income and creates a small earned income tax credit for low- and middle-income working Ohioans based on the federal credit.
To balance the cuts, the plan raises the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent, increases future property taxes by 12.5 percent and graduates the homestead tax exemption to be based on need, meaning the lowest-income seniors, disabled and widowed Ohioans will get the most out of the exemption in the future.
Most recently, the conference committee added two safeguards for low-income Ohioans: a credit that wipes out income-tax liability for Ohioans making $10,000 or less a year and another $20 credit for those making $30,000 or less a year.
The Policy Matters analysis doesn’t take into account the two changes to property taxes and several other, smaller changes to income and sales taxes, but the rest of the changes, including the conference committee’s recent adjustments, are considered.
The tax plan is part of the $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, which passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly today. It's expected Republican Gov. John Kasich will sign it into law this weekend.
Update: Budget bill passed by General Assembly.
Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
• State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding
• State Budget Rejects Medicaid Expansion
• State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7 percent in May, unchanged from April and down from 7.3 percent in May 2012, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Although the number of unemployed increased by 5,000 between April and May, the number of employed also increased by 32,100, keeping the rate relatively stable. Most sectors tracked in the report, including government, gained jobs.
The final version of the state budget would cut income taxes and create a state-based earned income tax credit, but it would also hike the sales tax and make changes to property taxes that effectively increase rates. Republican state legislators rolled out the tax plan yesterday as a compromise between the Ohio House and Senate plans. The final version looks a lot more like Gov. John Kasich’s original tax proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for favoring the wealthy. The budget must be signed by Kasich by June 30.
City Council is expected to vote on the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap on Monday. The gap is a result of construction bids coming in much higher than expected, and solving it would involve making cuts for a slew of capital programs, including infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino. The cuts will all come from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fund operating budget expenses like police and fire because of limits established in state law.
Three days after City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an agreement leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Port Authority still hadn’t signed the lease, and it remains unclear when the agency plans to do so. City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat she’s confident the Port Authority will sign the lease. But the delays have raised questions about whether there truly will be local control over the city’s parking assets through the Port Authority, given that the agency is already going against the wills and assumptions of the city government by failing to sign the lease.
City Councilman Chris Seelbach announced on Twitter that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel will release a joint statement on the city’s “responsible bidder” ordinance later today. The city and county have been clashing over the ordinance, with county commissioners most recently putting a hold on all Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the conflict in greater detail here.
Federal data released this week shows Ohio has some of the weakest gun laws and, as a result, is a top source for guns for crimes committed in other states.
Construction is expected to cause some downtown ramp closures and restrictions next week, so prepare for delays or a change in commute.
A Japanese scientist may have to grow his human organs in pigs.
The world’s first 3-D printed battery is as small as a grain of sand.
Republican state legislators today rolled out a major tax overhaul that would cut Ohio income taxes, but the plan would also increase and expand sales and property taxes.
Legislators plan to add the tax changes to the $61.7 billion two-year budget. The final plan is being touted as a merger of the original proposals from the Ohio House and Senate, but none of the proposed tax hikes in the revised plan were included in the original tax proposals from either chamber.
Relative to rates today, the new plan would cut state income taxes across the board by 8.5 percent in the first year of the budget’s implementation, 9 percent in the second year and 10 percent in the third year. That’s a bump up from the House plan, which only included a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
The Senate’s 50-percent tax deduction for business owners
would be reduced to apply to up to $250,000 of annual net
income, down from $750,000 in the original plan. Under the
revised plan, a business owner making a net income of $250,000 a year
would be able to exempt $125,000 from taxes.
The plan would also create an earned income tax credit that would give a tax refund to low- and moderate-income working Ohioans.
To balance the cuts, the plan would hike the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. Some sales tax exemptions would be eliminated, including exemptions for digital goods such as e-books and iTunes downloads.
The plan would also make two major changes to property taxes: First, the state would not pay a 12.5-percent property tax rollback on new property tax levies, which means future levies for schools, museums and other services would be 12.5 percent more expensive for local homeowners.
Second, the homestead tax exemption, which allows disabled, senior and widowed Ohioans to shield up to $25,000 of property value from taxes, would be graduated over time to be based on need. In other words, lower-income seniors would still qualify for the exemption, while higher-income seniors wouldn’t. Current exemptions would remain untouched, according to House Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz.
The final tax plan is a lot closer to Gov. John Kasich’s original budget proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for disproportionately favoring the wealthy (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
The budget must now be approved by the conference committee, House, Senate and Gov. John Kasich in time for a June 30 deadline.
Even though it’s now illegal under local and state law, texting while driving often eludes punishment in Greater Cincinnati. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department has issued no tickets so far to vehicular texters, while the Cincinnati Police Department has given out 28, with only four going to teenagers. Although almost everyone acknowledges the dangers of texting while driving, police say it’s very difficult to catch texters in the act, especially since most of them claim they were just making phone calls.
Otto Budig, board chairman of the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, apparently told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the Port Authority won’t sign the parking lease until it gets assurances about city funding. City Council considered pulling $100,000 from the Port Authority while putting together the budget for fiscal year 2014. Now, Budig says the Port Authority wants some sort of financial assurance, perhaps as part of the parking lease, that the city won’t threaten future funding. The city announced Tuesday it had signed the lease, but some opponents, including Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, are still looking for ways to repeal the plan.
A Policy Matters Ohio report found the state’s tax code remains complicated
under the Ohio Senate budget plan and the budget actually added tax breaks, despite earlier promises of simplification from House and Senate leaders. Meanwhile, Mike Dittoe, spokesperson
for Ohio House Republicans, says the General Assembly will take up tax
reform later in the year. The Ohio Department of Taxation says the tax breaks will cost Ohio nearly $8 billion in fiscal year 2015, and Policy Matters says many of the exemptions, deductions and credits are wasteful.
JobsOhio topped a ranking from Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) that looks at government agencies’ “unrelenting commitment to undermining the public's right to know.” IRE mocked JobsOhio and the state Republicans for making it increasingly difficult to find out how the agency uses its public funds. Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, have also criticized Republicans for blocking a public audit of JobsOhio, which was established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to eventually replace the public Ohio Department of Development. JobsOhio’s supporters argue the agency’s privatized, secret nature allows it to move at the “speed of business” to better boost the economy.
The Cincinnati Museum Center is looking to ask Hamilton County residents to renew its operating levy in May 2014, even though the museum promised in 2009 that it wouldn’t do so. The museum argues circumstances have changed, with Union Terminal crumbling and in need of about $163 million in repairs. When the museum originally made its promise against more operating levies, it was expecting to make repairs through a capital levy, but Hamilton County commissioners dismissed that idea. Hamilton County commissioners will have to approve the operating levy before it goes on the ballot.
An Ohio bill would ban anyone under the age of 18 from tanning at a salon unless a doctor gives permission for medical reasons. This is the third time Ohio legislators have proposed measures against indoor tanning in recent years.
Personhood Ohio, the anti-abortion group trying to ban abortions in Ohio by defining life as beginning at conception, is fundraising by selling assault rifles.
Here is a map showing how green Earth is in the most literal terms.
We now have an explanation for why everyone is so nice and loving to CityBeat’s Hannah McCartney: A study found people are mostly mean to their unattractive coworkers.
Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Submit your questions here and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Politicians and economists often talk favorably about simplifying the tax code, but a June 17 report from Policy Matters Ohio found Ohio’s tax code will remain complicated under the budget plan being discussed in the Ohio House and Senate.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for House Republicans says reform will come through separate bills later this year.
The Policy Matters report, titled “Breaking Bad: Ohio tax breaks escape scrutiny,” found the state’s tax code will include 129 tax exemptions, deductions and credits if the Senate’s 2014-2015 budget is approved — one more tax break than the previous biennium. Altogether, the Ohio Department of Taxation estimates the tax breaks will cost Ohio nearly $8 billion in fiscal year 2015.
The Senate budget repealed two tax breaks, but it simultaneously added or expanded a dozen, according to the report. Among the additions was a 50-percent income tax deduction for business owners worth up to $375,000 of annual income, which Policy Matters says will largely benefit passive investors, one-man firms and partnerships that will not add jobs.
Policy Matters found 44 tax breaks have been eliminated since 2003 because of the elimination of corporate franchise and estate taxes. But in that time frame elected officials have added and expanded so many new tax breaks that there are now only nine less tax breaks than there were in 2003.
The report claims many of the tax breaks are wasteful. One example: An almost $20 million a year exemption for pollution-control equipment purchased by utility companies. The report says most of the purchases are already mandated by the state government, which means the state is effectively paying companies to follow the law and regulations.
The report ultimately calls for thorough, regular reviews of the state’s tax breaks.
“It is time for the General Assembly to scrutinize spending through the tax code as it does other state expenditures,” said Zach Schiller, report author and research director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement.
At the beginning of the 2014-2015 budget process, House Speaker William Batchelder (R-Medina) and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said one of their goals was to simplify the tax code. Mike Dittoe, spokesperson for Batchelder and Ohio House Republicans, says such reform will now be pursued in separate bills, probably later in the summer or fall.
“The budget is obviously a very labor-intensive process and there’s lots of moving parts,” he says. “A lot of members of the House and Senate just want to make sure that things get done right.”
Instead of simplifying the tax code in the budget, Republican legislators are focused on passing tax cuts. The House and Senate are currently working on reconciling their separate tax plans by merging and downsizing them. The joint plan is “likely to be unveiled in its entirety here over the next few days,” Dittoe says.
The House approved a 7-percent across-the-board income tax
cut in its budget plan. But the Senate cut the House’s tax proposal and
approved a tax deduction for business owners instead. Supporters say the tax cuts will spur the economy and create jobs, while opponents claim the plans are misguided and will fail to lift the lower and middle classes.
The budget bill currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature would cut taxes in a way that disproportionately favors the wealthy, according to a new analysis from Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy group.
The budget bill, which was passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House with a 61-35 vote on April 18, would cut state income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent. Policy Matters analyzed the result for each tax bracket: For the top 1 percent, the tax plan would cut $2,717 in taxes on average. For the middle 20 percent, it would amount to a $51 cut on average. For the bottom 20 percent, it would result in $3 on average.
The report explains the disproportionate gains are caused by the structure behind Ohio’s tax system: “Ohio has a graduated income tax, so people pay more on higher levels of earnings. Because of that, across-the-board tax cuts give much more money to the wealthiest Ohioans. This reinforces inequality and adds to the unfairness of the state and local tax system, which is weighted in favor of upper-income taxpayers when all state and local taxes are taken into account.”
Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters, says the Ohio House tax plan will also have little impact on Ohio’s economy.
“Since the 21-percent reduction in state income taxes approved in 2005, Ohio’s economy has underperformed the nation,” Schiller said in a statement. “There is little reason to believe that another round of income-tax cuts will produce a different result.”
Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Speaker of the House William Batchelder and Ohio House Republicans, wrote in an email to CityBeat that there are still two months for the state government to finalize the details of the tax plan as it works through the Ohio legislature.
The budget bill still has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate. If changes are made to the Ohio House proposal, the Ohio Senate bill would have to be concurred by the Ohio House. It would then need to be signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, who could line-item veto certain parts of the bill or veto the entire bill.
“It’s disappointing to see that Policy Matters Ohio would begrudge an income tax cut which will benefit all Ohioans,” Dittoe wrote in the email. “Of the seven citations in their report, ironically, five of them refer back to previous ‘studies’ issued by none other than Policy Matters Ohio. Before issuing a study of this magnitude, it may be wise for them to cite something other than themselves to make the report more credible.”
Policy Matter’s findings were gathered through the independent Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which plugs the numbers into its own model to gauge the impact of tax cuts on different income levels.
The resulting numbers do little to deflate concerns raised by Policy Matters about Kasich’s tax proposal, which was a much larger 20-percent across-the-board income tax cut. Policy Matters found Kasich’s tax plan also favored the wealthy, except the overall plan actually raised taxes on the state’s poorest because it included an expansion of the sales tax that the Ohio House rejected (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
Today is Tax Day, which means income tax returns have to be filed by midnight. If you’re in a rush, there are a variety of online tax filing services out there, particularly for state and federal taxes. Cincinnati’s e-filing service can be found here.
Cincinnati is outlining the time frame for police, firefighter and other layoffs that the city says it must undertake to balance the budget. The layoffs are currently set for June 9, with layoff letters going out by then. The city administration says the layoffs are necessary because the city’s plan to lease its parking assets has been held up in court and a referendum effort, eliminating the use of parking funds to help balance the budget in time for fiscal year 2014. Opponents say there are alternatives, but Mayor Mark Mallory and the city’s budget gurus recently criticized the suggestions as misleading and unworkable.
Ohio House Republicans are once again attempting to defund Planned Parenthood in their latest budget plan, but this time they are also throwing in support for crisis pregnancy centers, which tout abstinence-only education, in a separate part of their budget proposal. The moves have sparked criticism from pro-choice groups around the state that say Republicans are trying to push their morality on women, while anti-abortion groups have praised the budget for enforcing family values and what they claim are more women’s health options.
The Medicaid expansion is uniting Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Democrats, mental health advocates and other health experts against the Ohio House Republicans’ budget proposal, which rejects the expansion. Supporters of the expansion point to studies that say the expansion will save the state money, insure nearly half a million Ohioans and help the state’s neediest, but Ohio Republicans say they’re concerned the federal funding backing the expansion will dry up at some point, even though there’s no historical precedent of the federal government failing to meet its Medicaid commitments.
State officials are moving to reform Ohio’s foster care system after several deaths were linked to poor oversight and regulations. The Foster Care Advisory Group sent out its suggestions last week, which include removing some rules to “normalize” foster children’s childhoods and eliminating county-by-county funding inequality.
Internet sweepstakes cafes have been closed in California and Florida — a move state officials are looking to replicate in Ohio.
Ohio gas prices are low this week.
A new state license plate design is now available.
A new strand of the bird flu is here, and it’s already killed 11 people in China.
Scientists have reconstructed the ancestor that came between the human and chimp.
As part of an effort supporting a state earned income tax credit (EITC), Policy Matters Ohio unveiled an interactive map today that shows the potential benefits to taxpayers in different counties.
For Hamilton County, about 19 percent of tax-filing households would qualify for the program. A 10-percent EITC would return about $15.6 million to households in Hamilton County, or about $225 on average for each qualifying filer. A 20-percent EITC would return about $31.2 million to Hamilton County, with each qualifying filer getting about $451 on average.
EITC is a tax credit that goes to working families, typically favoring low- and middle-income earners with children. It is already used by the federal government and several states to progressively reward employment.
Since then, Ohio House Republicans have rejected most of Kasich's tax proposals, instead downsizing the plan to a 7-percent across-the-board tax cut with no sales tax expansion.
Here is the interactive map, courtesy of Policy Matters:
About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program. While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.
With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels, Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau established the organization to reach out to national journalists and continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years. “Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work for companies based here.”
The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and chemicals alone. . The rest of the costs come through increased snow plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy salt when it’s cheap.
Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati neighborhoods.
Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.
The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.
Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.
Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.
There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls email@example.com.
A coalition between Equality Ohio and other major LGBT groups on Friday officially declared it will not support a 2014 ballot initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Instead, the coalition plans to continue education efforts and place the issue on the ballot in 2016. But FreedomOhio, the LGBT group currently leading the 2014 ballot initiative, plans to put the issue on the ballot this year with or without support from other groups. CityBeat covered the issue and conflict in further detail here.
The group heading Commons at Alaska, a permanent supportive housing project in Avondale, plans to hold monthly “good neighbor” meetings to address local concerns about the facility. The first meeting is scheduled at the Church of the Living God, located at 434 Forest Avenue, on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. Some Avondale residents have lobbied against the facility out of fears it would weaken public safety, but a study of similar facilities in Columbus found areas with permanent supportive housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas. In January, a supermajority of City Council rejected Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s proposal to rescind the city’s support for the Avondale project.
Gov. John Kasich’s income tax proposal would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s wealthiest, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found. Specifically, the proposal would on average cut taxes by $2 for the bottom 20 percent of Ohioans, $48 for the middle 20 percent and $2,515 for the top 1 percent. The proposal is typical for Ohio Republicans: They regularly push to lower taxes for the wealthy, even though research, including from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, finds tax cuts for the wealthy aren’t correlated with higher economic growth.
Mayor John Cranley says he wants Catholic Health Partners to locate its planned headquarters in Bond Hill.
A new Ohio law uncovered more than 250 high-volume dog breeders that previously went unregulated in the state. The new regulations aim to weed out bad, unsafe environments for high-volume dog breeding, but some animal advocates argue the rules don’t go far enough. CityBeat covered the new law in further detail here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald could face a longshot primary challenger in May. But the challenger, Larry Ealy of the Dayton area, still needs his signatures confirmed by the secretary of state to officially get on the ballot.Former Gov. Ted Strickland could run against U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in 2016, according to The Plain Dealer. Strickland cautioned it’s not an official announcement, but it’s not something he’s ruled out, either.
A bill that would make the Ohio Board of Education an
all-elected body appears to have died in the Ohio legislature.
Currently, the governor appoints nearly half of the board’s members. Some legislators argue the governor’s appointments make the body too political.
Science says white noise can help some people firstname.lastname@example.org.
A federal judge on Monday ordered Ohio authorities to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. Although the ruling was narrow, many advocates of gay marriage argue the merits of the judge’s decision indicate a broader problem with Ohio’s marriage laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling against a federal anti-gay marriage law. The judge’s ruling came just three days after another federal court struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban on similar constitutional grounds.
Gov. John Kasich’s plan to get Ohio’s economy moving again: more tax cuts. But the policy announcement — unsurprising, coming from a Republican — comes on the same year Ohio’s economy slowed down even after Kasich and the Republican legislature passed tax cuts that heavily favored the state’s wealthiest.
Believe in Cincinnati saved the streetcar, argues The Cincinnati Enquirer. The group was formed shortly after Mayor John Cranley won the November election and threatened to halt the $132.8 million streetcar project for good. But the threats inspired a groundswell of streetcar supporters, ranging from concerned businesses to residents. And before City Council agreed to continue the streetcar project, Believe in Cincinnati in just eight days gathered 11,300 petition signatures for a charter amendment restarting the project. CityBeat covered the group in its infancy here.
Cincinnati ranked No. 2 for highest child poverty out of 76 major U.S. cities in 2012, according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Cleveland and Toledo also made the unfortunate top five, CDF found.
Overtime pay at the Metropolitan Sewer District exceeded $2 million for the third consecutive year in a row, but the number falls below the accepted standard of less than 10 percent of total payroll. MSD Director Tony Parrott says overtime allows the agency to keep staffing numbers in check but still responsive to unexpected situations. Still, the overtime estimate arrives at a time Hamilton County commissioners are raising sewer and water rates to comply with federal mandates.
Cincinnati will tap into a state program for a major demolition blitz in 2014. The city plans to knock down 240 blighted and condemned buildings next year — far higher than the typical annual rate of 70.
Eight historic buildings in Cincinnati, including Memorial Hall, on Dec. 20 received roughly $6 million in state tax credits for projects totaling $71 million.
Rhinegeist Brewing plans to begin canning its craft beer in January.
Humans were getting the flu as far back as the year 1510, but it’s completely unknown if dinosaurs suffered from similar illnesses.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday unanimously agreed to allocate $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71.
The funding will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from lowering property taxes in the future as originally planned.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld argued the focus should be on the project’s economic potential, not its possible impact on property taxes.
“If the city stopped spending money and stopped investing in things, indeed people’s taxes would go down, but I don’t think it’s a very fair frame to think about making this very important investment,” he said.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach said the public should know the full effects of the project.
“Believe me, I support this, and I support this through the property tax, but I just don’t want us to be able to pass this without saying what it is,” he said.
Council members said they support the interchange project because of the positive economic impact it will have on the uptown area, which includes the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals.
According to a May 2012 study from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center, the project will produce 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs. The same study found the economic impact of the project will reach $133 million during construction and $750 million once the interchange opens, which would lead to higher tax revenues.
The city is carrying roughly one-fifth of the cost for the interchange project. The rest will be financed through the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick yesterday revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project, after accounting for $32.8 million in sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and $44.9 million in lost federal grant money. But Mayor-elect John Cranley flatly denied the numbers because he claims the current city administration “is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters.” Meanwhile, at least two of the potential swing votes — incoming council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn — showed skepticism toward the estimates, although Mann said, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.” Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.
Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in October, up from 6.9 percent a year before. The state added only 27,200 jobs, which wasn’t enough to make up for the 31,000 newly unemployed throughout the past year. The numbers
paint a grim picture for a state economy that was once perceived as one of the
strongest coming out of the Great Recession. In comparison, the U.S.
unemployment rate actually decreased to 7.3 percent from 7.9 percent
between October 2012 and October 2013. (This paragraph was updated with the nonfarm numbers.)
The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) will repay $30 million plus interest to businesses that overpaid taxes throughout the past three years. The announcement came after Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer found ODT had illegally withheld $294 million in overpayments over the years. Meyer’s findings were made through what was initially a probe into alleged theft at ODT.
Outgoing Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan could request an automatic recount because she came tenth out of the nine elected council members, right after Councilwoman-elect Amy Murray, by only 859 votes. But Quinlivan and Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke agreed the recount would be a long-shot. Still, Quinlivan noted that a flip in the count could be a big deal because she supports the streetcar project and Murray opposes it.
Cincinnati Public Schools are trying to expand their recycling efforts.
Here is an interactive infographic of meat production in 2050.
Urban schools spend less on basic education for a typical student than previously assumed after accounting for the cost of poverty, according to a Nov. 19 report from three school advocacy groups. After weighing the extra cost of educating an impoverished student, the report finds major urban school districts lose more than 39 percent in per-pupil education spending and poor rural school districts lose nearly 24 percent, while wealthy suburban schools lose slightly more than 14 percent. In the report, Cincinnati Public Schools drop from a pre-weighted rank of No. 17 most per-pupil education funding out of 605 school districts in the state to No. 55, while Indian Hills Schools actually rise from No. 11 to No. 4.
An Ohio House committee approved sweeping gun legislation that would enact “stand your ground” in the state and automatically recognize concealed-carry licenses from other states. The “stand your ground” portion of the bill would remove a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in all areas in which a person is lawfully allowed; current Ohio law only removes the duty to retreat in a person’s home or vehicle. The proposal is particularly controversial following Trayvon Martin’s death to George Zimmerman in Florida, where a “stand your ground” law exists but supposedly played a minor role in the trial that let Zimmerman go free. To become law, the proposal still needs to make it through the full House, Senate and governor.
A state senator is proposing a sales-tax-free weekend for back-to-school shopping
to encourage a shot of spending in a stagnant economy and lure shoppers
from outside the state. Eighteen states have similar policies, but none
border Ohio, according to University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center.
Michael Jones of UC’s Economics Center says the idea is to use tax-free school supplies to lure out-of-state shoppers, who are then more likely to buy other items that aren’t tax exempt while they visit Ohio.
An Ohio Senate committee approved new limits on the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel that has grown controversial following its approval of the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite disapproval from the Ohio legislature. Gov. John Kasich went through the Controlling Board after he failed to persuade his fellow Republicans in the legislature to back the expansion for much of the year. The proposal now must make it through the full Senate, House and governor to become law.
Cincinnati’s Metro bus service plans to adopt more routes similar to bus rapid transit (BRT) following the success of a new route established this year. Traditional BRT lines involve bus-only lanes, but Metro’s downsized version only makes less stops in a more straightforward route. CityBeat covered the lite BRT route in further detail here.
Cincinnati obtained a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 Municipal Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign, giving the city a 13-point bump compared to 2012’s mixed score.
A bill approved by U.S. Congress last week could direct millions in federal research dollars to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
A UC study found a higher minimum wage doesn’t lead to less crime.
Gov. Kasich will deliver UC’s commencement address this year.
The new owner of the Ingalls Building in downtown Cincinnati plans to convert some of the office space to condominiums.
Here are some images of the Cincinnati that never was.
Someone invented a hand-cranked GIF player.
Cincinnati’s State Sen. Bill Seitz says he will introduce a “compromise” bill that still weakens Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards but allows some of the current requirements for in-state renewable sources to remain for a few years. Environmental and business groups argue Seitz’s original bill would effectively gut the state’s energy standards and, according to a study from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, force Ohioans to pay an extra $3.65 billion in electricity bills over 12 years. But some utility companies, particularly Akron-based FirstEnergy, claim the current standards are too burdensome and impose extra costs on consumers.
Meanwhile, Ohioans on Nov. 16 rallied in front of the Ohio Statehouse to call on U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to support federal regulations that would attempt to curtail human-caused global warming. The regulations are part of President Barack Obama’s second-term plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants, which Environment Ohio says are responsible for 41 percent of U.S. carbon emissions — a primary contributor to global warming. Although some conservatives deny human-caused global warming, scientists stated in the 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that they are at least 95 percent certain that human actions contribute to global warming.
Hamilton County commissioners will vote on Wednesday on a plan that would increase the tax return received by property taxpayers. Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s proposal would increase the rebate from $10 million to $12 million, or $35 for each $100,000 of property value in 2013 to $42 in 2014. But Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat in the three-member board, says he would rather focus on increasing the sales tax to make the stadium fund sustainable and not reliant on casino revenue, which could go to other investments.
Commissioners also agreed to not place a property tax levy renewal for the Cincinnati Museum Center on the ballot until there’s a plan to fix Union Terminal. The informal decision followed the recommendations of the Hamilton County’s Tax Levy Review Committee, which reported that it will only support the levy renewal if the city, county and museum develop a plan to transfer ownership of Union Terminal from the city to a new, to-be-formed entity and locate public and private funds to renovate and upkeep the terminal in a sustainable fashion.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced on Monday that he’s forming a heroin unit to tackle what he describes as a drug epidemic sweeping across Ohio’s communities. The effort, which is estimated at $1 million, will focus on education, outreach and law enforcement. David Pepper, DeWine’s likely Democratic opponent for the attorney general position in 2014, argues DeWine, a Republican, moved too slowly on the issue; Pepper says the problem began in 2011, more than two years before DeWine’s proposal.
Cincinnati council members Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman yesterday reiterated their opposition to the city’s responsible bidder policy, which requires bidders for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) work to follow specific standards for apprenticeship programs. The law has caused an impasse between the county, which owns MSD, and the city, which is in charge of management. The conflict comes in the middle of a federal mandate asking MSD to retrofit Cincinnati’s sewer system — a project that will cost $3.2 billion over 15 years. CityBeat covered the conflict in greater detail here.
Cincinnati’s Department of Public Services will expedite the delivery of bigger trash carts. The deliveries are part of Mayor Mark Mallory’s controversial trash policy, which limits each household to one trash cart that can be picked up by automated trucks in an effort to save money and avoid workers’ injuries. Mayor-elect John Cranley says the policy is too limiting and causing people to dump trash in public areas.
Cincinnati’s Metro is the most efficient bus service
compared to 11 peer cities, but it ranks in the middle of the pack when
it comes to level of service, according to a study from the University of Cincinnati Economics Center.
Metro plans to announce today that it will balance its operational
budget without fare increases or service cuts for the fourth year in a
For Thanksgiving Day, Metro will run on a holiday schedule. The sales office will also be closed for Thanksgiving and the day after.
Ohio will receive nearly $717,000
in a multi-state settlement involving Google, which supposedly overrode
some browsers’ settings to plant cookies that collect information for advertisements.
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday disbarred Stan Chesley, which means the local attorney can no longer practice law in front of the nation’s highest court. The controversy surrounding Chesley began more than a decade ago when he was accused of misconduct for his involvement with a $200 million fen-phen diet-drug settlement.
Some organisms might evolve the ability to evolve.
JobsOhio, the state-funded privatized development agency, grants more tax credits around Columbus, the state capital, than anywhere else in the state. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the discrepancy might be driven by Columbus’ high growth rate and the city’s proximity to the state government, which could make Columbus officials more aware of tax-credit opportunities. But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also blames local governments in southwest Ohio for failing to act in unison with a concerted economic plan to bring in more tax credits and jobs.
Hartmann today plans to introduce a partial restoration of the property tax return that voters were promised when they approved a half-cent sales tax hike to build Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium. The return was reduced when there wasn’t enough money in the sales tax fund to pay for the stadiums last year, but there might be enough money now to give property taxpayers more of their money back. It was unclear as of Sunday how much money someone with a $100,000 home would get back under Hartmann’s plan.
Hamilton County’s Tax Levy Review Committee will recommend a tax levy for the Cincinnati Museum Center only if a few conditions are met, including transfer of ownership of the Union Terminal from the city to a new, to-be-formed entity and allocation of public and private funds to renovate and upkeep the terminal in a sustainable fashion.
City Council last week asked the city administration to find and allocate $30,000 for the winter shelter, which would put the shelter closer to the $75,000 it needs to remain open between mid-to-late December and February. The shelter currently estimates it’s at approximately $32,000, according to Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The city administration now needs to locate the money and turn the transaction into an ordinance that needs City Council approval and would make the allocation of funds official. To contribute to the winter shelter, go to tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati and type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional)” before making a donation.
Defense contractor Lockheed Martin announced Thursday that it plans to cut about 500 jobs
in Akron, Ohio. State officials were apparently aware of the plan
in October but underestimated how quickly Lockheed Martin would carry
out the cuts. Ohio Democrats jumped on the opportunity to mock JobsOhio
for failing to move at the “speed of business,” as Republicans claim
only the privatized development agency can, to develop an incentive
package that could have kept Lockheed Martin in Akron. But state
officials say they were led to believe Lockheed Martin’s move would take
Intense storms and tornadoes swept across the Midwest over the weekend, killing at least six.
Ohio has issued a record-breaking amount of concealed-weapons licenses this year. The state issued 82,000 licenses in the first nine months of 2013, more than the 64,000 in 2012 that set the previous record. About 426,000 permits have been issued since the state began the program in 2004.
This week, Ohio gas prices jumped back up but remained lower than the national average.
Popular Science looks at how artificial meat could “save the world.”
The Ohio Department of Taxation this week released separate tax forms that will allow gay couples who live in the state but got married in another state to jointly file for taxes at the federal level. But because of Ohio’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, same-sex couples won’t be able to jointly file for taxes at the state or local level.
Although the move is being received as a step forward for Ohio’s gay couples, some LGBT groups say the discrepancy between different levels of government shows the need to push for marriage equality in Ohio.
Why Marriage Matters Ohio, which is trying to educate Ohioans on the benefits of same-sex marriage, pointed out the discrepancy in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
“This is why marriage equality matters in Ohio. This is why we’re working to build support for affording all Ohio families the protections and responsibilities that only marriage offers,” wrote Elyzabeth Holdford, executive director of Equality Ohio and board chair of Why Marriage Matters Ohio.
FreedomOhio, which is attempting to get same-sex marriage on the November 2014 ballot, also criticized the discrepancy on Thursday.
“While many will appreciate the extra tax benefits, this separate and unequal treatment of families is unfair, unequal and is not the treatment we seek,” said Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, in a statement. “FreedomOhio is committed to bringing equal rights to all Ohioans.”
Beyond the issue of equal rights, allowing same-sex marriages in Ohio could generate economic activity. A study conducted by Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics, LLC, found marriage equality could produce $100-$126 million in economic growth within three years in the state and $8.2 million in the same time span in Hamilton County.
The new tax form for same-sex couples can be found here.
CityBeat yesterday revealed its endorsements for the City Council and mayoral races. Check them out here. Also, early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.
JobsOhio and similar privatized development agencies in other states create scandals and potentials of conflicts of interests instead of jobs, according to an Oct. 23 report from Good Jobs First. The report found that privatized development agencies in seven states, including Ohio, tend to also exaggerate job claims and resist basic oversight. JobsOhio in particular is chaired by people who donated to Gov. John Kasich’s campaign. The agency also received public money without informing the legislature, and it gained a legal exemption from full public audits, public records laws and open meeting rules. Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 established JobsOhio to replace the Ohio Department of Development. They argue JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature helps the agency establish job-creating development deals at the “speed of business.” But Democrats say JobsOhio is ripe for abuse, difficult to hold accountable and unclear in its results.
A bill that intends to bring uniformity to Ohio’s complex municipal income tax code got a makeover, but cities say the bill still reduces their revenues. Business groups are pushing for the bill so they can more easily work from city to city and county to county without dealing with a web of different forms and regulations, but cities are concerned they’ll lose as much as $2 million a year. Many cities already lost some state funding after Kasich and the Republican legislature slashed local government funding, which reduced revenues for Cincinnati in particular by $22.2 million in 2013, according to City Manager Milton Dohoney.
Opponents of Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, say it could force the city to cut services by 41 percent or raise taxes significantly. CityBeat analyzed the amendment in further detail here.
Converting Mercy Mt. Airy Hospital into a crime lab for the county coroner’s office could cost $21.5 million, well under the previously projected $56 million. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says it could be the most economical way for the county to get a crime lab, which the coroner’s office says it desperately needs. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s still concerned about operating costs, but he’ll review the new estimates and advise county commissioners on how to proceed.
An Over-the-Rhine business owner says Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) “dropped the ball” with incentives for retail businesses, and he’s now looking to move his store, Joseph Williams Home, to the suburbs. Specifically, Fred Arrowood says 3CDC has done a lot to accommodate restaurants and bars, but it failed to live up to promises to attract and retain retail businesses. But 3CDC points to its own numbers: Spaces in OTR are currently leased in contracts with 20 businesses, 15 restaurants or bars and 14 soft goods retailers.
Cincinnati State and the University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will make it easier for students with two-year degrees at Cincinnati State to get four-year degrees at UC.
The Cincinnati Enquirer hosted a City Council candidate forum yesterday. Find their coverage here.
Northeast Ohio Media: “Ohio abortion clinic closings likely to accelerate under new state regulations.” (CityBeat reported on the regulations, which were passed with the two-year state budget, here.)
Gov. Kasich and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, two Republicans widely perceived as potential presidential candidates in 2016, don’t register even 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, a key primary state.
Cincinnati-based Omnicare agreed to pay $120 million to resolve a case involving alleged kickbacks and false claims, according to lawyers representing a whistleblower. The company says the settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.
Chef David Falk of Boca wrote a moving love letter to Cincinnati.
On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.