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
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.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) claimed in a 2011 lawsuit that the city government isn’t meeting funding requirements. A Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas motion filed Jan. 4 and accepted Jan. 23 gives the city and AFSCME until April to settle the case out of court.
By law, Cincinnati is required to heed to the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS) Board of Trustees when setting the percent of payroll the city must contribute to retirees. But the AFSCME lawsuit argues the city hasn’t been making contributions dictated by the board.
The lawsuit, which dates back to June 2011, cites minutes from a CRS Board of Trustees meeting on July 20, 2010 to show the board accepted a report from Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC. The report asked the city to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to retiree benefits — 12.32 percent to retiree health benefits and 33.9 percent to other CRS benefits — during the 2011 fiscal year.
Instead, the city biennial budget for 2011 and 2012 established a contribution rate of 17 percent — way below the recommended sum.
The AFSCME lawsuit alleges the low contributions reflect a
“longstanding pattern” from city government. It points to a 2002
report from the CRS Board of Trustees that found the city was not meeting requirements set by the board then, either.
The lawsuit asks for a court mandate requiring city government to find out how much it needs to contribute, establish a mechanism for collecting the amounts required and appropriate and contribute the required amounts.
City Solicitor John Curp says the debate is between long-term and short-term interests. On AFSCME’s side, the union wants to get as much from payroll contributions as possible for represented retirees, even if it means a short-term economic and budget shock for the city. On the city’s side, City Council is more interested in meeting long-term requirements for the pension fund, instead of keeping up with shifting annual numbers that could negatively impact the city economy and budget.
City government’s approach attempts to balance short-term and long-term needs with a long-term goal. It means the city pension is underfunded during some years, particularly when the economy is in a bad state. But it keeps rates steady, letting the city avoid sudden funding changes that would require spending cuts or tax hikes to keep the budget balanced.
By adopting a large short-term contribution rate, the city would likely hurt its budget in ways that would negatively affect city employees represented by AFSCME. If the city was forced to contribute 46.22 percent of payroll to CRS — up from 17 percent — it would probably be forced to cut spending elsewhere, which would lead to layoffs.
This story was updated on Jan. 25 at 12:40 p.m. to reflect comments from City Solicitor John Curp.
Pro-choice groups are criticizing Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan for pulling money from Planned Parenthood and shifting federal dollars to “anti-choice” crisis pregnancy centers.
The Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan would redirect federal funding for family planning services in a way that would strip funding for Planned Parenthood and family planning providers.
During hearings at the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee today, multiple women’s health advocates, ranging from health experts to members of Planned Parenthood, said these services mostly benefit low-income women, particularly in rural areas. On the other side, representatives from anti-abortion groups spoke in support of the Ohio House Republicans’ measures, citing health care options, family values, abstinence and chastity.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, says the defunding measure has become a recurring trend for Ohio Republicans, who have taken up the Planned Parenthood measure multiple times in the past couple years. But she says the threat could have more weight this time around.
“This feels different,” Copeland says. “They’ve always kind of tried to hide it before. This time they were a lot more upfront about it. It seems like they may be willing to put political capital into this fight this time.”
A separate section of the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan redirects federal funding to a program that will fund crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which provide abstinence-only family planning services.
Some researchers have found abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health
found abstinence-only programs have no impact on rates for teenage
pregnancy or vaginal intercourse, while comprehensive programs that
include birth control education reduce rates.
A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Georgia that looked at data from 48 states concurred abstinence-only programs do not reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy. The study indicated states with the lowest teenage pregnancy rates tend to have the most comprehensive sex and HIV education programs.
Still, a 2010 study from a University of Pennsylvania researcher found abstinence-only education programs may delay sexual activity. The study, which tracked black middle school students over two years, found students in an abstinence-only program had lower rates of sexual activity than students in the comprehensive program.
Some supporters say the Ohio House Republicans’ budget measures aren’t specifically about Planned Parenthood, abortion or birth control. Instead, they argue they’re trying to establish more health care options for women.
But the providers that would be able to get more funding already apply for it; they just lose out to Planned Parenthood’s services, which are deemed superior by state officials who distribute the funds during the competitive distribution process.
Copeland says “no thinking person” should fall for the reasoning given by Republicans and supporters who say abortion is not one of their concerns.
“They’re trying to impose their morals on you,” Copeland says. “These are not health care experts. These are not people who are trying to find real solutions for the problems that real people face. These are people who want to impose their personal views, their personal morality on you.”
Some anti-abortion supporters, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, say abortion and broader cultural issues are absolutely part of the reason they support the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan.
“Our mission is to support the right to life from conception to natural death,” Leipold says. “Abortion happens to be a big problem right now because in the past 40 years it’s become part of the culture.”
She adds, “Now kids are learning that responsible sex means that you can have sex but just use birth control. That’s not supposed to be the attitude. The attitude is supposed to be that sex is for a committed relationship between a man and a woman in a marital relationship.”
During testimony today, Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, asked state legislators to support the organization’s numerous medical services, including women’s health, family planning and sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment.
Kight also said state and federal funds do not go to abortions. Planned Parenthood’s abortion services are instead funded by private donations.
At the hearings, Republican State Rep. Ron Maag asked Kight why Planned Parenthood doesn’t shut down its three abortion clinics in Ohio if those clinics are potentially threatening the “good work” Planned Parenthood does elsewhere. Kight said Planned Parenthood believes its abortion services are “good work.”
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
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.
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).
City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.
As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.
Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget.
"The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."
The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.
The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department.
Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated.
Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.
The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.
The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a 50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special events.
At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget.
"I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.
Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of control."
Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.
Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.
The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months
of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to
be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway.
But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.
The biggest deficit plug will come from privatizing parking services, which the city manager’s office says will bring in $40 million in one-time revenue and additional revenue over 30 years as part of a long-term contract. About $21 million of the initial lump-sum payment will be used to close the 2013 budget deficit.
In the past, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld voiced concerns about privatizing parking: “I’ll await more details, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t need while we’re experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Another concern is whether the city’s current parking employees will be laid off if parking services are sold. Dohoney said the deal for privatization will require the winning bidder to interview all American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers. Full-time workers who do not join the winning bidder will be hired in other parts of the city government. “No AFSCME employee will be placed on the street if they are full-time as a result of this effort,” Dohoney claimed.
The rest of the deficit plug will come in cuts, cost shifting, savings, revenue, embedded growth and one-time sources. Among these, notable items include the elimination of the Mounted Patrol for the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and a $610,770 reduction in Human Services Funding. A few departments and programs, including the CPD, will face further minor cuts.
The city manager’s office claims the changes in the budget are necessary mostly due to changes at the state level. Specifically, the state government cut the Local Government Fund by 50 percent and eliminated the tangible personal property tax reimbursement and estate tax; altogether, losing these sources of revenue cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in the 2013 budget.
Facing the large deficit, Dohoney said he wanted to avoid across-the-board cuts and other major cuts to growth and investment programs: “You’re not competitive if that’s your approach.”
The budget also includes some spending increases. The Focus 52 Program will focus on redevelopment projects in Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. If it’s successful, the new program will “grow the city’s revenue base, create new jobs and/or increase the population of the city,” according to the city manager’s office.
In other budget news, the city manager will also send out the Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which sets the millage rate for the operating property tax. That proposal seeks to raise the millage rate from 5.9 mills to 6.1 mills, which will provide an estimated $31 million in revenue, up from $23.5 million. For a $100,000 residential property, that means a tax hike of $46.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and other city administration officials say the city will have to carry out Plan B, which would lay off 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. But council members Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Chris Smitherman claim there are other ways — casino revenue and cuts elsewhere — to balance the budget.
The meeting got testy after a few council members called the city administration “disingenuous” for framing Plan B and the parking plan as the only two budget options, prompting Mayor Mark Mallory to slam council members for attempting to pin the city’s budget woes on the city administration.
“I don’t think anyone in the administration wants to see their colleagues laid off,” Mallory said. “The administration makes a recommendation to this mayor and to this council. The final decision makers are the elected leaders.”
He added, “What’s disingenuous is to create a crisis and then criticize the administration for its response to the crisis when those responsible for dealing with the crisis are the elected leaders. It would be like an arsonist setting a building on fire and then complaining about how long it took the fire department to get there and what equipment they used to put out the fire.”
Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, said the ideas she heard at the special session today would not be enough to close the budget gap.
Throughout the discussion, the city administration repeatedly dismissed ideas presented by council members as not enough to overcome the city’s $35 million deficit and avoid layoffs. By the city administration’s admission, even Plan B would only close about $26 million of the projected deficit.
How that budget gap is closed may come with additional expenses. Eriksen said the budget gap may reach $45 million if the city carries out Plan B because the city would also be forced to pay for accrued leave and unemployment insurance.
Still, Assistant City Manager David Holmes admitted the city could balance the deficit without Plan B or the parking plan, but the numbers must “add up” and would require direction from City Council.
When the discussion came to casino revenues, Holmes said the city administration feels “uncomfortable” projecting casino revenue because the state’s projections have trended downward in the past few years. In 2009, the state government estimated Ohio’s casinos would take in $1.9 billion a year, but that projection was changed to $957.7 million a year in February.
Eriksen said the city estimates between $9 million and $11 million in casino funds will be available to the city. She said even if Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino hits its $100 million goal, the city will not be able to get the $21 million previously touted by Horseshoe Casino General Manager Kevin Kline because the money is pooled with money from other casinos around the state, which has fallen far below projections, before it’s distributed to cities and counties.
When asked about shifting parking meter revenue to the general fund to help balance the budget, Eriksen said doing so would ultimately be a “wash” because of expenses currently attached to parking meter revenue.
Seelbach suggested making more cuts through the
priority-driven budgeting process. Eriksen explained Plan B does cut
programs that were poorly ranked by the process — the mounted patrol
unit, arts funding and recreation centers were a few examples she cited. But
only relying on programs ranked poorly by the priority-driven budgeting process would “decimate” departments and
programs that the city deems essential, she said.
In the original 2013 budget proposal put forward by the city manager, mounted patrol was cut, but Seelbach lobbied for the program’s restoration.
Multiple council members brought up traveling and training costs as potential areas to cut, but Eriksen said the city administration had not considered further cuts in those areas because the leftover expenses are currently used to get certifications that city employees “need to do their jobs.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, asked the city administration if they tried to balance the budget without layoffs. Eriksen replied, “Yeah, that was called the parking plan.” She added without the parking plan, it would be “mathematically impossible” to balance the budget without layoffs.
When Winburn suggested city employees should take salary cuts, Eriksen said such cuts would require extensive negotiations with unions because about 90 percent of the city’s employees are unionized.
In November, Winburn was one of the prominent supporters of giving the city manager a raise and bonus.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat running for mayor, said she would be open to using any revenues possible for reducing the budget gap, but she said City Council must acknowledge the harsh budget realities facing the city — further re-emphasizing points she made in a blog post Sunday.
John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, has said in the past that the threat of layoffs is “the boy crying wolf.” Cranley released his own budget plan on March 28 that he says would avoid layoffs and balance the budget without the parking plan, but some critics say the budget’s revenue estimates are unrealistic.
Eriksen said Cincinnati has run structurally imbalanced budgets since 2001, but city officials say deficits have been made much worse by state cuts in local government funding carried out by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican legislature since 2010 (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6 that would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority to raise funds that would help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years and pay for new development projects, including the construction of a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Opponents of the parking plan, who say they fear it will lead to rate hikes, filed their petitions for a referendum effort today. It is so far unclear whether they have the 8,522 verified signatures required to put the issue on the November ballot.
With the support of local officials from around the state, Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is launching a website called ProtectMyOhio.com to organize efforts to restore local government funding cut during Gov. John Kasich’s time in office.
Speaking during a phone conference today, Sittenfeld, Dayton Commissioner and mayoral candidate Nan Whaley, Columbus Councilman Zach Klein and Toledo Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe McNamara described how state funding cuts have forced cities and counties to cut services.
“What we’re really trying to do today is speak up and sound the alarm about the governor’s ongoing raid on the Local Government Fund,” Sittenfeld said. “Over the last four years, the governor has taken away $3 billion in local government funding. This year alone, municipalities across Ohio are going to receive nearly $1 billion less than they previously would have.”
He added, “This is the exact same money that cities, villages and townships used to keep cops in the street, staff our fire departments, fix the potholes and some of the other basic services that citizens rightly expect and the local governments are the ones responsible for delivering.”
In the past, the Kasich administration has argued the cuts were necessary. When previously asked about cuts to education and other state funding, Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, told CityBeat, “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit. … We had to fix that.”
But the 2014-2015 budget is not under the fiscal pressures Kasich experienced when he took office, and the governor is pursuing $1.4 billion in tax cuts over the next three years, which he argues will help spur small businesses around the state. During the phone conference, local officials said the revenue going to tax cuts would be better used to return funds to local governments.
Sittenfeld says the cuts have left Cincinnati with $12 million less per year. “That is the difference between us having our first police recruit class in nearly six years versus not having it,” he said. “It’s the difference between enduring dangerous fire engine brownouts versus not having to do so.”
Klein, who represented Columbus in the call, said the cuts have amounted to nearly $30 million for his city, which he said is enough money to help renovate nearly all the city’s recreation centers, parks and pools.
“No one is spared,” Klein said. “Everyone is getting cut across the state, and every neighborhood — no matter if you’re in a small village or in a large city like Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo or Dayton — (is) at some level feeling the effects of the cuts, whether it’s actual cuts in services or what could be investments in neighborhoods.”
Klein said the cuts, which have been carried out by a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature, contradict values espoused by national Republicans. At the federal level, Republicans typically argue that states should be given more say in running programs like Medicaid, but Ohio Republicans don’t seem to share an interest in passing money down to more local governments, according to Klein.
Some state officials have previously argued that it’s not the state’s responsibility to take care of local governments, but Sittenfeld says it’s unfair to not give money back to the cities: “Cincinnati is a major economic engine for the entire state. We’re sending a lot of money to Columbus, so I think it’s fair to say we would like some of that money back. John Kasich doesn’t have to fill the potholes, and John Kasich doesn’t have to put a cop on the street.”
Whaley, who represented Dayton in the call, said, “There’s a county perspective on this as well. The counties would certainly say that the unfunded mandates that the state legislature brings down daily are covered by those local government funds. While (state officials) keep on making rules for the counties to administer services and make those efforts, it’s pretty disingenuous to say that (county officials) don’t get a share of the income.”
A Policy Matters Ohio report found the state has cut $1.4 billion from local government funding — nearly half of total funding — during Kasich’s time as governor. The report pinned much of that drop on the estate tax, which was phased out at the beginning of 2013 and would have provided $625.3 million to local governments in the 2014-2015 budget. The estate tax was repealed in 2011 by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Kasich.
Cincinnati had structural deficit problems before Kasich took office, but local officials argue the state’s cut have made matters worse. 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.
Kasich’s office did not return CityBeat’s phone calls for this story.
Kasich’s latest budget proposal has also been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for tax cuts and education funding plans that benefit the wealthy and expanding Medicaid (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
Speaking at a press conference today, city officials did not mask their contempt for the ruling that put the parking plan on hold earlier in the day, saying it will force the city to make cuts and layoffs to balance the 2014 budget and potentially eliminate the passage of expedited legislation.
The press conference was in response to a ruling from Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler, which opened the parking plan to referendum and ordered a permanent injunction on the plan pending any referendum effort. City Solicitor John Curp said the city is appealing the ruling.
Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
explained the city will now have to close a $25.8 million shortfall in
the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
Dohoney said he has already ordered city departments to begin
preparations for Plan B, which will lay off 344 employees, including 80
firefighter and 189 police positions, to balance projected deficits.
“Part of the irony is we're swearing in a recruit class tomorrow,” he said, then shook his head. “Too bad.”
In addition to meeting the July 1 budget deadline, the city has to expedite some layoff notices to meet union contracts, which typically require a notice 30 days in advance.
Curp said the ruling also poses significant legal challenges that will hinder the city’s ability to expedite legislation with emergency clauses. Emergency clauses are often used by City Council to remove a 30-day waiting period on passed laws, and the city argues they also remove the ability to referendum.
The layoffs could be retroactively pulled back if the city wins in appeals courts or if the referendum effort fails to gather enough petitions.
“Don't sign the petition,” Mallory said. “If you sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter.”
Dohoney said the delays make the city look sluggish — an image that he says the city has been trying to overcome. “One of the criticisms I’ve gotten is that this city takes too long to get deals done,” he said. “This complicates that.”
City Council approved the parking plan to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Opponents of the plan argued that there were alternatives that did not involve laying off cops or firefighters. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.
At the press conference, Mallory called the alternatives “unworkable.” He said Plan S in particular does not work because it relies on a ballot initiative that would have to be voted on in November. “We don’t have until November,” he said.
Opponents say they’re concerned the parking plan will cede too much control over the city’s parking meters, which they say will lead to a spike in parking rates.
The city says rate increases are initially capped at 3 percent or inflation — whichever is higher — but the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would be made up of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.
In the legal proceedings, the two sides are arguing whether emergency clauses eliminate the ability to hold a referendum on legislation. Opponents of the parking plan, headed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), say the city charter is ambiguous with its definition of emergency clauses, and legal precedent demands courts side with voters’ right to referendum when there’s ambiguity.
Supporters of the parking plan cite state law, which says emergency legislation is not subject to referendum. Terry Nestor, who represented the city in the court hearings, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.
Winkler sided with opponents of the parking plan in his decision. He wrote in his ruling, “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.”
Mallory says the city is not disputing voters’ right to referendum in a general sense; instead, he says the city needs to expedite the budget process to balance the budget before fiscal year 2014.
City officials say the parking plan is necessary largely because of Gov. John Kasich’s local government funding cuts, which Dohoney previously said cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in annual revenues (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20). Opponents argue Cincinnati had structurally imbalanced budgets years before Kasich took office, but the city says Kasich’s policies have made the situation much worse.