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 email@example.com.
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: