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by German Lopez 10.24.2012
Posted In: News, Environment, Economy at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Group Pushes Green Water Infrastructure

Annual conference promotes sustainable urban water programs

Ohioans might not give it much thought outside of paying the water bill, but better water infrastructure can make cities more efficient, healthier and cleaner. That’s why Green For All, a group that promotes clean energy initiatives, is now focusing on cleaner, greener water infrastructure.

A little-known green conference took place in Cincinnati Oct. 15-17. The Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference was in town on those three days, and it brought together leaders from around the U.S. to discuss sustainable water programs for cities. The conference mostly focused on policy ideas, success stories and challenges faced by modern water infrastructure.

For Green For All, attending the conference was about establishing one key element that isn’t often associated with water and sewer systems: jobs. Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, says this was the focus for his organization.

Hays says it’s important for groups promoting better water infrastructure to include the jobs aspect of the equation. To Hays, while it’s certainly important for cities to establish cleaner and more efficient initiatives, it’s also important to get people back to work. He worries this side of water infrastructure policies are “often left out.”

He points to a report released by Green For All during last year’s conference. The report looked at how investing the $188.4 billion suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage rainwater and preserve water quality in the U.S. would translate into economic development and jobs: “We find that an investment of $188.4 billion spread equally over the next five years would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs.”

To accomplish that robust growth and job development, the report claims infrastructure would have to mimic “natural solutions.” It would focus on green roofs, which are rooftop areas with planted vegetation; urban tree planting; rain gardens, which are areas that use vegetation to reduce storm water runoff; bioswales, which are shallow, vegetated depressions that catch rainwater and redirect it; constructed wetlands; permeable pavements, which are special pavements that allow water to pass through more easily; rainwater harvesting, which uses rain barrels and other storage devices to collect and recycle rainwater; and green alleys, which reduce paved or impervious surfaces with vegetation that reduces storm water runoff.

The report says constructing and maintaining these sorts of programs would produce massive growth, especially in comparison to other programs already supported by presidential candidates and the federal government: “Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts.”

Hays says the jobs created also don’t have barriers that keep them inaccessible to what he calls “disadvantaged workers”: “A lot of these jobs that we’re focused on in infrastructure, especially green infrastructure, are much more accessible. They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”

Beyond jobs, Green For All supports greener infrastructure due to its health benefits. Hays cited heat waves as one example. He says the extra plants and vegetation planted to support green infrastructure can help absorb heat that’s typically contained by cities.

Hays’ example has a lot of science to stand on. The extra heating effect in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, is caused because cities have more buildings and pavements that absorb and contain heat, more pollution that warms the air and fewer plants that enable evaporation and transpiration through a process called evapotranspiration. The EPA promotes green roofs in order to help combat the urban heat island effect.

Hays says green infrastructure also creates cleaner air because trees capture carbon dioxide and break it down to oxygen. The work of the extra trees can also help reduce global warming, although Hays cautions that the ultimate effect is probably “relatively small.”

But those are only some of the advantages Hays sees in green infrastructure. He says green infrastructure is more resilient against volatile weather events caused by global warming. With green infrastructure, storm water can be managed by systems that collect and actually utilize rainwater to harvest clean water. Even in a world without climate change, that storm water management also reduces water contamination by reducing sewer overflow caused by storm water floods, according to Hays.

However, green infrastructure is not without its problems. Hays acknowledges there are some problems with infrastructure systems that require more year-over-year maintenance: “The green and conventional approach is more cost effective over time, but the way you have to spend money is different. So we need to look at the way we finance infrastructure, and make sure we keep up with innovative technologies.” 

Specifically, green infrastructure relies less on big capital investments and more on ongoing maintenance costs. Hays insists the green infrastructure saves money in the long term with efficiency and by making more use out of natural resources, and the Green For All report supports his claim. But it is more difficult to get a city or state legislator to support long-term funding than it is to get them to support big capital expenditures, Hays says.

Education is also a problem. To a lot of people, the green infrastructure on rooftops and other city areas might seem like “pocket parks,” says Hays. But these areas are nothing like parks; they are meant to absorb and collect rainwater. If the public isn’t educated properly, there could be some confusion as to why the supposed “pocket parks” are flooded so often. Providing that education is going to be another big challenge for public officials adopting green infrastructure, according to Hays.

So what, if anything, is Cincinnati doing to adopt these technologies? In the past, city legislators have looked into rainwater harvesting systems, but not much information is out there. On Thursday, CityBeat will talk to city officials to see how Cincinnati is moving forward.

by German Lopez 04.26.2013
Posted In: News, Economy at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ohio Is No ‘Economic Miracle’

Liberal, conservative think tanks warn of bad signs in state’s economy

It’s one issue Ohio’s leading conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly agree on: The “economic miracle” often touted by Gov. John Kasich is not really happening.

The bleak economic news has been highlighted by recent reports from the right-leaning Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which supports little government intervention in the economy, and the left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, which focuses on policies that can benefit low- and middle-income Ohioans.

The March “Ohio by the Numbers” report from the Buckeye Institute did acknowledge that Ohio has a lower unemployment rate than the national average, but the report was particularly hard on Ohio’s lacking private sector job growth. It pointed out the state lost 16,800 private sector jobs in February, ranks No. 27 in the nation for private sector job growth since January 2010 and ranks No. 47 for private sector job growth since January 1990.

Policy Matters’ March report was similarly harsh: “Since the end of the recession, Ohio has added 133,700 jobs, growing at a rate of 2.7 percent. But that growth leveled off in the second half of 2012, and the reported zigzag of the last two months means that Ohio has only added 2,700 jobs over the past year, growing at a very weak 0.1 percent.”

The news may come as a surprise to those who have been reading seemingly positive job news in recent months. Policy Matters places the problem on the inherent volatility in job reports, which are based on household surveys: “This volatility should serve as an important reminder: Monthly numbers are preliminary and will likely be revised, so it is unwise to make too much over the month-to-month changes. Longer-term trends provide a more accurate gauge of the state’s economic health.”

While they agree on the problem, the two think tanks disagree on the causes and solutions.

Greg Lawson, policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute, says the biggest problem is Ohio’s tax system. In this area, he points out three major problems: higher income tax rates than other states, an unusual amount of municipalities in Ohio with income taxes and complicated filing for individuals and businesses.

“You find nowhere else in the entire country a situation in which someone has to file multiple income tax forms ... for different jurisdictions they work in,” he says, citing the different tax rates and credits someone working in multiple municipalities might have to deal with. “That creates a drag on the efficiency of being able to set up businesses.”

As far as tax cuts are concerned, another report from Policy Matters found a series of tax cuts passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2005 had little impact on the state’s economic growth. The report found Ohio experienced job losses while the rest of the country grew, and not a single Ohio sector outpaced national performance. The report concluded, “State economies are complicated and there are many reasons why Ohio’s job growth is lagging. However, it is clear that the 2005 tax cuts did not bring about the promised job growth. There is no reason to think that further tax cuts will, either.”

Instead, Policy Matters has focused on austerity, which led to the public sector job cuts outlined in Policy Matters’ March report: “A private-sector gain of 16,900 jobs has been nearly erased by the 14,200 jobs lost in the public sector. Most of those public job losses happened at the local level.”

Indeed, federal sequestration has already caused some damage in Ohio, and local government funding cuts approved by Kasich have also forced local governments to cut back (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).

by German Lopez 10.15.2012
Posted In: News, 2012 Election, Bailout, Economy, Budget at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
josh_mandel headshot

Brown, Mandel Clash in Feisty Debate

U.S. Senate candidates argue over records, economy, social policy

In the first of three debates for Ohio’s seat in the U.S. Senate, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel agreed on little and clashed on a lot. Each candidate mostly focused on the opposing candidate's record, but the debate today did move to substantial differences in policy at some points.

The debate started with opening statements from a noticeably feisty Brown, who criticized Mandel for calling his vote for the auto bailout “un-American.” On the other side of the aisle, Mandel began his opening statement with a joke about shaving before he turns 36. The joke was the last time either of the men spoke with a light heart.

The candidates blasted each other mostly for their records. Mandel touted Ohio's and the nation’s higher unemployment rate since Brown took office in 2006, energy prices and the U.S. debt. He also said the Senate had not passed a budget in three years, although Congress has actually passed budget resolutions in that time.

Brown fired back with claims Mandel had filled the state treasurer’s office with cronies. He also criticized Mandel for running for four different political offices in seven years. In his closing statement, Brown said Mandel is “too concerned about running for his next job” to be trusted.

On substance, Brown and Mandel criticized just about everything about each other. Brown claimed Mandel signed away his “right to think” by agreeing to lobbyist Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes while in office. He said the pledge makes it so if Mandel does take office, he’ll never be able to close tax loopholes for big corporations.

Mandel defended the pledge by saying, “I’m proud to stand for lower taxes in our state and lower taxes in our country.” He added, “I will do everything I can to advocate for lower taxes across the board for the middle class and job creators as well.”

The term “job creators” is typically used in politics to reference wealthy Americans, who Republicans claim create jobs through the theory of trickle-down economics. The economic theory states that wealthy Americans will hire more lower-class Americans if they have more money and freedom, essentially creating a trickle-down effect on wealth from the rich to the poor. Although Republicans still tout the theory, some economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, say the financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation that led to it prove trickle-down economics do not work.

The candidates also debated their positions on the auto bailout. Mandel said he would not have voted for the auto bailout if he was in the Senate in 2009. In his defense, he cited the experience of Delphi workers, who lost part of their pensions as part of the deal auto companies made with workers after the federal bailout. Mandel then said, “I’m not a bailout senator. He’s the bailout senator.”

Brown responded by saying, “These are real jobs and real people.” He then cited examples of people helped by the growing auto industry. Brown’s arguments are backed by economic data, which has repeatedly credited the growing auto industry for the nation’s growing economy. In the first quarter of 2012, the auto industry was credited for half of the nation’s economic growth.

When he was asked about higher education, Brown established the key difference between the candidates in terms of economic policy. Brown said his policies in favor of government investment in higher education are about supporting the middle class to create growth that starts in the middle and spreads out, while Mandel supports tax cuts that emphasize a trickle-down approach. Mandel did not deny the claims, and instead blamed Brown’s policies for the high unemployment rate and debt issues.

The men continued to show similar contrasts on the budget, taxes and economy throughout the entire debate, but there seemed to be some common ground regarding energy independence. When the topic came to hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — Brown said becoming energy independent would have to involve all possible energy sources. In substance, Mandel agreed, although he also praised fracking regulations recently passed by the Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich.

As far as energy issues go, the agreement stopped there. When Brown was asked about President Barack Obama's alleged “war on coal,” Brown said there was no war on coal and claimed there are more coal jobs and coal produced in Ohio than there were five years ago. Mandel disagreed and claimed there is a war on coal. He added if Obama is the general in the war on coal, Brown is Obama's lieutenant.” Brown previously supported federal regulations on mercury that some in the coal industry, including the Ohio Coal Association, claim will force coal-fired power plants to shut down. The regulations go into effect in 2015.

On abortion, Mandel proudly claimed he was pro-life, while Brown said, “Unlike Josh Mandel, I trust Ohio women to make their own health care decisions.” Brown also criticized Mandel for not establishing exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother in his anti-abortion stance.

Many more issues, from term limits to Middle Eastern culture, were covered in the debate. The candidates drew sharp contrasts in all these areas with Brown typically holding the liberal position and Mandel typically holding the conservative position. But despite the feisty language and deep policy contrasts, when the debate ended, the candidates smiled, shook hands and patted each other on the back. They will meet again in Columbus on Thursday and Cincinnati on Oct. 25.

by German Lopez 08.08.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Poverty at 11:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
kids count 2013

Report: Childhood Poverty Worse in Hamilton County than State

Despite higher median income, county scores worse than various statewide averages

Hamilton County fares worse than Ohio overall in a series of measurements for children’s economic well-being, health, education and safety, according to a report released Aug. 7.

The 2013 “Ohio’s Kids Count” report from the Children’s Defense Fund and Annie E. Casey Foundation finds Hamilton County has a higher median income than Ohio does on average. But the county fares worse than the state in various categories, including childhood poverty, fourth-grade reading and math proficiency, felony convictions and the amount of babies with low birth weights, an early sign of poor health.

One example: Hamilton County’s childhood poverty rate is 27.7 percent, while Ohio’s overall rate is 23.9 percent. If the county brought the rate down to the state average, it would pull more than 3,000 local children out of poverty.

Hamilton County’s childhood poverty rate dropped from 28.5 percent to 27.7 percent between 2010 and 2011.

The report uses state data from between 2009 and 2011 to look at various indicators for children under the age of 18. Some of the data differs from findings from other groups, such as the National Center for Children in Poverty, which found about 48 percent of Cincinnati’s children are in poverty.

The report claims many of the measured indicators are socially and economically linked, so it should come as little surprise that Hamilton County is doing worse across the board. Still, it advises local, state and federal officials to continue taking action to bring down the troubling numbers.

In Cincinnati, City Hall has historically failed to meet its goals for human services funding, which in part helps homeless youth and other struggling children.

But local leaders, including city officials and business executives, have backed the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, which aims to place more low- and middle-income Cincinnati children in early education programs. Shiloh Turner, vice president for community investment at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, today wrote in an email to CityBeat that Preschool Promise backers are currently looking at funding options and will iron out plans and partnerships through meetings scheduled for the next three months.

The Kids Count report credits Ohio officials in particular for approving a new voucher program that will subsidize preschool for families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The program is expected to reach 7,000 children in the state over the next two years.

But the state has generally cut education funding since Gov. John Kasich took office, leaving Cincinnati Public Schools with $15 million less state funding than it received in 2009.

At the same time, the federal government is set to cut its food stamp program in November, which progressive think tanks like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argue will hurt low-income families in Ohio.

by German Lopez 09.12.2012
Posted In: Government, News, Economy, Spending at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
randall meyer

Inspector General: ODJFS Wrongly Reimbursed Companies

Hired organizations did not properly comply with federal stimulus requirements

Ohio’s inspector general released a report today criticizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for improperly reimbursing federal stimulus funds to hired organizations that did not follow rules.

In a statement, Inspector General Randall Meyer’s office said ODJFS “failed to adequately oversee federal grant funds applied to the Constructing Futures jobs training initiative for Central Ohio.”

The report released by Meyer’s office today, which focused on stimulus programs in central Ohio, outlined a few instances of ODJFS failing to oversee proper standards. In total, the department, which was put in charge of carrying out job training funds in Ohio from the stimulus package President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, wrongly reimbursed companies it hired for $51,700.81.

In central Ohio, ODJFS hired two organizations to carry out the job training program, or Workforce Investment Act: Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) and Construction Trades Networks (CTN). At ABC, the inspector general found limited problems with faulty reimbursements involving a newspaper subscription, travel and mileage totaling less than $100. The money was not accounted for as a questionable cost since it was so small.

However, at CTN, the faulty reimbursements piled up. The organization was reimbursed $560.61 for phone calls made prior to being hired as part of the federal grant. It was also reimbursed $1,613.62 for its invoices, even though documentation was not provided to link phone calls as necessary to the grant program.

Under the federal stimulus rules, CTN was required to provide 25 percent of its own funds for the program. CTN planned on using $91,800 of in-kind funds — payment that isn’t cash — by paying for trainee wages. The organization paid $60,927.70 by the end of the grant period, and the organization was reimbursed for $49,526.64 by ODJFS, even though the charges were supposed to be carried by CTN. The inspector general requested CTN give the money back to ODJFS.

When the inspector general contacted the organization to explain the findings, CTN attributed the requests for faulty reimbursements to confusion caused by multiple administrative changes at ODJFS.

“In addition, monitoring visits by ODJFS were not conducted until after the grant period expired, even though the partnerships were told the visits would occur as grant activities were underway,” the report said.

Meyer’s office concluded ODJFS should review the questioned costs, work to keep consistent guidelines through administrative changes and monitor grant funds during the grant period.

The full inspector general report can be found here.

A report was released for northwestern Ohio was released on May 10, and it also found wrongdoing. It can be found here. A report for stimulus programs in southwestern Ohio will be released later.

ODJFS could not be immediately provide comment on the report. This story will be updated if comments become available.

UPDATE (3:28 P.M.): Benjamin Johnson, spokesperson for ODJFS, provided a comment shortly after this story was published.

“As the report mentions, these were expenditures by local entities, not by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, he says. We appreciate the inspector general bringing this to our attention, and we'll work to resolve the matter.”

by German Lopez 03.04.2013
Posted In: Privatization, News, Parking, Budget, Economy at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
downtown grocery

Parking Meter Company's Past Problems Resurface

Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters

The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.

A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.

For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.

The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4 percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public management.

The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington, D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s parking meters today.

The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges.

All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.

Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.

CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today.

On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit.

Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.

by Andy Brownfield 11.04.2012
barack obama 2

Obama Makes Plea to Cincinnati Voters at UC Appearance

Compares his policies to Clinton; Romney to Bush

Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.

Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.

“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”

With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.

Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.

“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.

“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”

Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.

Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.

The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.

Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”

Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.

So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.

Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.

One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.

A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.

“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.

“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.

Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.

“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”

by German Lopez 02.26.2013
Posted In: Budget, News, Governor, Economy at 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kasich Cuts Local Government Funding Again

Previous cuts helped cause Cincinnati budget deficit

A new Policy Matters Ohio report found local government funding has been reduced by $1.4 billion since Gov. John Kasich took office, leading to a nearly 50-percent reduction in state funding.

The report found local government funding dropped from nearly $3 billion in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years — the years budgeted by former Gov. Ted Strickland — to about $2.2 billion in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years — the first two years budgeted by Kasich. The governor’s most recent budget proposal would ensure the continuation of the downward slide, with local government funding dropping down to slightly more than $1.5 billion in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, according to the report.

Policy Matters concluded new revenue from the state’s casinos and an expanded sales tax would not be enough to outweigh cuts in the Local Government Fund, utility tax reimbursements, tangible personal property reimbursements and the termination of the estate tax. By itself, the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013, would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget, but it was repealed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich.

The governor’s office has repeatedly argued that the cuts in Kasich’s first budget were necessary to help balance an $8 billion budget deficit, but the Policy Matters report says improving economic conditions have removed a need for further local government funding cuts: “To encourage growth we need good schools, reliable public safety and emergency services and strong communities. During hard times, state and local policy led to cuts. But further cuts in appropriations for local government are not helping communities. Curtailing local control of local revenues will complicate recovery – as the economy improves, it is time to restore the fiscal partnership between state and community.”

When presenting his 2013 budget proposal, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the state funding reductions cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in revenues for the year.

CityBeat previously covered Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget proposal and how it affects taxpayers, schools and Medicaid recipients (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).

by German Lopez 12.06.2012
Posted In: Energy, Environment, Economy, News at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
solar panels

Report Pushes Solar Cincinnati

Environment Ohio touts renewable energy’s health, job benefits

A Dec. 5 report is encouraging Cincinnati to become the solar energy capital of Ohio and the broader region. The report, titled “Building a Solar Cincinnati,” was put together by Environment Ohio to show the benefits and potential of Cincinnati regarding solar power.

Christian Adams, who wrote the report along with Julian Boggs, says Cincinnati is especially poised to take charge in this renewable energy front, in contrast to the rest of the state, which gets 82 percent of its electricity from coal. Adams points to the sustainability-minded city officials and public, a “budding solar business sector” and the great business environment as the city as reasons why Cincinnati could become a pivotal leader.

With 21 public solar installations to date, the city has already seen some of the benefits of solar power. The most obvious benefit is cleaner air, which leads to better overall health and helps combat global warming. But the report points out that local solar initiatives mean local jobs. “You can’t export these jobs,” Adams says. “It’s a great opportunity for economic revitalization.”  

With solar energy comes an array of job opportunities for solar installers, solar designers, engineers, construction workers, project managers, sales associates and marketing consultants. That’s enough to create brisk job creation. The report points out “energy-related segments of the clean economy added jobs at a torrid pace over the last few years, bucking trends of the Great Recession.”

Still, there are hurdles. Although solar energy saves money in the long term, installing solar panels has a high upfront cost. The cost can make the short term too bleak for many potential customers.

To help overcome the short-term problem, the report suggests third-party financing. In these financing agreements, customers agree to give up roof space to have a solar power company install solar panels, and then customers agree to buy their power needs from the company. It’s a win for the solar power company because the panels eventually pay for themselves through new customers, and it’s a win for the customer because he sees more stable, lower energy costs and cleaner air. Adams points out that a few businesses and individuals in the area have already taken part in such  agreements with great success. 

There are also some incentives already in place to encourage solar energy. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, which was passed in 2008, pushes utility companies into the renewable energy market with Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are credits utility companies must earn to meet annual benchmarks by installing solar panels or purchasing them from third parties. Duke Energy has followed the law’s requirements by establishing its own renewable energy credit program.

Ohioans also have access to some tax breaks — the Energy Conversion Facilities Sales Tax Exemption, Air-Quality Improvement Tax Incentives and Qualified Energy Property Tax Exemptions — and loan programs — the Energy Loan Fund and Advanced Energy Fund — that encourage solar and other renewable energy sources.

Larry Falkin, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ), says the report didn’t have much new information, but he’s glad it can be used to push solar energy to the broader public. He touted the benefits of job creation and reducing reliance on foreign energy sources by moving toward energy independence.

For now, the city is mostly taking the approach of leading by example. Falkin says the city is acting like a “model” for solar energy. Cincinnati added solar installations to two city facilities this year, and another will be added by the end of the month. Falkin’s office is also working together with different organizations to keep any momentum going.

Adams and Falkin both attended a Dec. 5 roundtable discussion that engaged regional officials, including solar businesses, environmental and sustainability groups, education leaders and the Cincinnati Zoo. They both said the roundtable went well.

“I think all the right people are coming together and doing the right things to try to move us forward,” Falkin says.

by German Lopez 12.26.2013
Posted In: News, Economy at 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

Report: Minimum Wage Increase to Benefit 330,000 Ohioans

Advocates argue minimum wage increases spur economic growth

When Ohio’s minimum wage automatically increases by 10 cents to $7.95 per hour at the start of 2014, roughly 330,000 workers will receive raises across the state, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

That could be good news for all of Ohio: EPI found the minimum wage increase will benefit the rest of the state through nearly $39 million in economic impact and 300 new full-time jobs.

“Ohio workers and the Ohio economy will both benefit from this raise for our lowest-paid neighbors,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement. “The employees who benefit will turn around and spend money in our communities, stimulating growth here.”

The automatic increase is a result of a constitutional amendment approved by Ohio voters in 2006 that hiked the minimum wage to $6.85 per hour and pegged it to rises in the cost of living.

Ohio isn’t alone in the increase, however. Policy Matters estimates 10 other states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and New Jersey — automatically increase their minimum wages each year to keep up with inflation.

The nationwide minimum wage hikes “will generate over $619 million in new economic activity and support creation of 4,600 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand,” according to Policy Matters.

The projections come at a time progressives are working on the national stage to increase the federal minimum wage, which, at $7.25 per hour, is becoming increasingly irrelevant as Congress fails to keep up with many states’ minimum wage expansions.

President Barack Obama’s Fair Minimum Wage Law would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015 and — perhaps most importantly — ensure the minimum wage increases each year to keep up with the cost of living. The left-leaning National Employment Law Project estimates the hike would help 30 million Americans and help grow the economy.

Opponents argue a minimum wage increase, especially one as rapid as Obama’s proposal, would burden businesses with considerably higher labor costs. They argue companies would drop employees or raise prices to cope with higher expenses.

Advocates typically tout a minimum wage hike as a matter of basic fairness. They claim the federal minimum wage would be $10.55 per hour today if it kept up with inflation.

Meanwhile, the economics research on the effects of the minimum wage is fairly mixed. Some studies linked higher minimum wages to less employment, while other studies found no effects at all.