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by German Lopez 11.05.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Infrastructure, Budget at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

It's Election Day, tolls appear inevitable for Brent Spence Bridge, county to pass budget

It’s Election Day. Polls will remain open today until 7:30 p.m. Find your voting location here. Check out CityBeat’s election coverage and endorsements here. Regardless of who you plan to support, go vote. The results will decide who runs Cincinnati for the next four years.

A gathering in Covington, Ky. over the Brent Spence Bridge signaled the community is still divided about using tolls to pay for the $2.5 billion bridge project, even as public officials admit tolls are most likely necessary to complete the project. Many local and state officials believe the federal government should pay for the interstate bridge, but they’re also pessimistic about the chances of receiving federal funds. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran says she’s concerned about safety at the functionally obsolete bridge, but she says tolls could have a negative impact on Covington.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote on an annual budget that nearly matches the county administrator’s original proposal. The budget is the first time in six years that county officials don’t have to carry out major cuts or layoffs to close a gap.

A study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and three other community organizations found idling school bus and car motors might pose a serious health risk to students. The most problematic pollutants are particularly concentrated when cars and buses are standing, and the toxic particles linger around schools and playgrounds for hours after the vehicles leave, according to the study. For researchers, the findings are evidence buses and cars should turn off their motors when dropping off children at school.

The Cincinnati Enquirer and other major newspapers lost thousands of readers in the past year, even though some newspapers managed to buck the trend and gain in certain categories, according to a circulation audit from the Alliance for Audited Media. Between September 2012 and September 2013, The Enquirer’s circulation dropped by more than 10 percent, while The Toledo Blade and Dayton Daily News increased their circulation. The drop coincides with readers resorting to the Internet and other alternate sources in the past few years. The losses have cost newspapers advertising revenue, and many have responded with cutbacks in staff and overall news coverage.

More than half a million Ohioans qualify for tax subsidies under Obamacare, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Anyone between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four, is eligible. But for Ohioans to take full advantage of the benefits, the federal government will first need to fix HealthCare.gov, which has been mired in technical problems since its launch on Oct. 1.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was one of seven Republicans to support a federal ban on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Senate yesterday. All Senate Democrats backed the bill. But the bill faces grim prospects in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s expected to fail. CityBeat covered state-level efforts to ban workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT individuals in further detail here.

Mitt Romney’s code name for Portman, a potential running mate for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket, was Filet-O-Fish.

One in five sun-like stars host Earth-like planets.

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by German Lopez 10.17.2013
Posted In: News, Emery Theatre, Homelessness, Budget at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Shutdown ends, homeless sue county, Requiem makes demands in battle for Emery Theatre

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Congress last night voted to end a partial government shutdown that lasted for more than two weeks and avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. In the end, House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner and local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, got less than nothing for their threats of default and shutdown: Obamacare wasn’t repealed or delayed, taxes weren’t cut and federal spending remained flat. Instead, Republicans were left with the worst polling results Gallup measured for either political party since it began asking the question in 1992. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats got the clean budget and debt ceiling bills they were asking for all along. But the funding measures only last until Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling increase remains until Feb. 7, leaving some groups on both sides of the aisle to ask whether the dramatic showdown will happen all over again in a few months.

Four local homeless sued Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil over his attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time. Homeless advocates argue the policy punishes homeless people for being homeless; they say the county should focus on creating jobs and housing opportunities, not arresting people who are just trying to find a safe spot to sleep. But the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office says it’s addressing a public health issue; Major Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.

In the ongoing legal battle for the Emery Theatre, the Requiem Project amended its lawsuit against the University of Cincinnati and lessees and asked the courts to remove UC from ownership of the building. Requiem argues UC has failed to live up to the goals of Mary Emery’s charitable trust by allowing the building to fall into disrepair and non-use over the years. Courts originally approved the development of apartments in the building as long as the profits went toward renovating the theater, but after 14 years apartment operators say there are multiple mortgages on the property and no profits. The trial is scheduled for February.

Commentary: “Governor Finally Accepts Federal Funds.”

Now in print: Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running for mayor against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, rejected support from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), and the conservative organization’s history of anti-LGBT causes helps explain why.

Qualls scored higher across the board than Cranley in the scorecard released today by the African-American Chamber of Commerce. Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University, previously told CityBeat that the black vote will likely decide the mayoral election. Council candidates Charlie Winburn, P.G. Sittenfeld, Vanessa White, Yvette Simpson, David Mann and Pam Thomas also topped the scorecard.

Ohio House Republicans may sue Gov. John Kasich for his decision to bypass the legislature and instead get approval from a seven-member legislative panel for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would use Obamacare dollars to extend eligibility for the government-run health insurance program to more low-income Ohioans for at least two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. CityBeat covered Kasich’s decision in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the Ohio House and Senate are debating three different ways to approach an overhaul of Medicaid and bring the program’s costs down. State Rep. Barbara Sears’ bill pushes for a swathe of reforms and cost controls, while State Rep. John Becker’s bill aims to significantly weaken the program to the absolute minimums required by the federal government. Becker’s proposal would likely leave hundreds of thousands of low-income Ohioans without health insurance.

Speaking in Cincinnati yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the federal government is working to correct the many errors plaguing Obamacare’s online marketplaces. The glitches and traffic overload have made HealthCare.gov, which acts as Obamacare’s shopping portal for Ohio and 35 other states, practically unusable for most Americans since the website launched on Oct. 1.

Ohio’s prison agency reassigned the warden and second-in-command at the Correctional Reception Center weeks after Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was found dead in his cell.

A 20-year-old woman is expected to recover after her car crashed into a Winton Hills building while she overdosed on heroin, according to Cincinnati police.

Cincinnati is the only Ohio city to make Livability.com’s top 100 places to live.

Headline: “Bad sperm? Drop the bacon.”

A new study argues ancient climate change led early humans to adapt and evolve.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.09.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Abortion at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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ACLU Sues Ohio Over Anti-Abortion Restrictions

Civil liberties group says rules violate state constitution

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio on Wednesday announced it is suing the state of Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions enacted as part of the 2014-2015 state budget.

“To put it simply, none of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill,” said Susan Scheutzow, ACLU cooperating attorney and partner at the law firm of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, in a statement. “This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy; the single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations.”

The lawsuit claims the restrictions violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. In the case of the budget, the ACLU argues that the law shouldn’t go beyond appropriating state funds and tax collection.

The three anti-abortion budget amendments in question ban public hospitals and abortion clinics from making transfer agreements that are required to keep clinics open; order clinics to take government-outlined steps, including showing a patient if a fetal heartbeat is detected, before carrying out an abortion procedure; and create a new “parenting and pregnancy” program that shifts state funds into private organizations that are barred from mentioning abortion services.

“The first two amendments have nothing at all to do with budget appropriations,” said Jessie Hill, ACLU cooperating attorney and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in a statement. “The third is also unconstitutional because it creates and funds an entirely new government program, something that requires stand-alone legislation.”

The ACLU says the lawsuit is about promoting good government that follows the rules, regardless of where any individual stands on the issue of abortion.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Preterm, a women’s health clinic in Cleveland that provides contraception, family planning and abortion services.

One anti-abortion restriction that’s not being sued over: The state budget effectively defunded clinics like Planned Parenthood by deeming their non-abortion services less competitive.

Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved the anti-abortion restrictions with the state budget in June. But Democratic critics say the new rules harshly restrict access to legal abortions protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.08.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Budget, Privacy at 09:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar renderings unveiled, county won't raise taxes, facial recognition scrutinized

CAF USA yesterday unveiled new renderings for Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project. The city has hired CAF to supply five cars, which will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier. John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August, and he expects to really test out the cars once the Over-the-Rhine loop is completed in June 2015.

Hamilton County commissioners unanimously agreed the 2014 budget won’t include tax increases. It’s also the first budget in six years that won’t require major cuts. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman’s budget proposal doesn’t explicitly suggest a tax hike, but it does explain how a sales tax hike could be used to offset other expenditures, such as a cut in property taxes. But commissioners all said they’re opposed to a sales tax hike. Commissioners will likely retool the budget and pass the final version in November.

Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper called on Ohio to restrict access of the state’s facial recognition system to a small group of a couple dozen specially trained law enforcement officers, which would take calls for the system 24/7. Under Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio in June secretly launched a facial recognition program that allows law enforcement to use a photo to search state databases and connect suspects with contact information; previously, searching the databases required a name or address. In his defense, DeWine claimed the system is vital for law enforcement and widely used across the country. But an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer found Ohio’s system grants access to thousands more officials than other states’ systems.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections began a hearing yesterday on whether Randy Simes, owner of UrbanCincy.com, can vote in Cincinnati after living in Chicago and moving to South Korea. Simes registered to vote in the mayoral primary election through Travis Estell’s address, where Simes says he stays when he’s in town. Simes’ supporters say the conservative groups behind the hearing are attacking him for political purposes because he supports the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls for mayor, both of which the groups oppose. The attorney for the conservative groups said that he doesn’t want voting “treated as a game.” Some members of the board of elections said they were disturbed by the political undertones of the hearing and a request for emails between Simes and Estell.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday announced voluntary guidelines urging doctors to use caution when prescribing high levels of opioid painkillers for long-term use to patients. The restrictions are in response to a rise in prescription drug abuse and overdoses across the country. Some members of the medical community say they’re concerned the guidelines will lead to temporary disruption in pain care, but others say the kinks should work themselves out in the long term.

Letters from State Treasurer Josh Mandel show he lobbied for Suarez Corp. to seek relief from litigation for the company. The two letters were obtained on Jan. 2 by a federal grand jury that later indicted Benjamin Suarez, owner of Suarez Corp., and Michael Giorgo, chief financial officer of the company, on charges of illegally funneling about $200,000 to Mandel and a Republican congressman’s campaigns in 2011.

Among states and the District of Columbia, WalletHub estimates Ohio is No. 32 most affected by the federal government shutdown. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in greater detail here.

Ohio gave 23 communities $8 million for local infrastructure improvements, but Cincinnati and Hamilton County were not among the recipients.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino held its spot as Ohio’s top-earning casino in September.

Enrollment to Cincinnati State increased despite a statewide decline. The university also received a $2.75 million manufacturing training grant.

Science confirmed that political extremists think they’re always right and everyone else is wrong.

Watch coffee shop customers freak out at a real-life Carrie:

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.07.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Commissioners, Budget at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Shutdown continues, council candidates meet at forum, county considers sales tax hike

Reminder: Today is the last day to register to vote in the 2013 mayoral and City Council elections. Since early voting is currently underway, it’s possible to register and vote on the same day. Get a registration form here and find out when and where to vote here.

The federal government shutdown is closing in on its second week. The shutdown has forced some services in Cincinnati to seriously cut back, ranging from Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety inspections to small business loans. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in further detail here.

City Council candidates met at a forum on Oct. 5 to discuss their different visions for the city’s future. The candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council’s goals since 2004. The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area. Check out CityBeat’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the forum here.

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman plans to propose a quarter-cent hike of the county sales tax to pay for lower property taxes, the elimination of permit and inspection fees paid by businesses, or the construction of a new coroner’s lab and addition of nearly 300 jail beds, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s sales tax is currently 6.75 percent, which is lower than 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Sigman says the plan would refocus the county and allow it “to transition from a posture of where to cut to where to invest.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach agreed to pay more than $1,200 to dismiss a lawsuit from an anti-tax group that would have cost the city $30,000. Seelbach’s payment reimburses the city for a trip he took to Washington, D.C., to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting Cincinnati’s LGBT community. City officials said the trip also helped Seelbach market Cincinnati and learn what other cities are doing to attract and retain LGBT individuals. The lawsuit was threatened by the hyper-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims to protect taxpayers from government over-spending and high taxes but simultaneously forces the city to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight off lawsuits.

Starting today, residents must use city-delivered trash carts if they want their garbage picked up. To save space in the carts, city officials are advising recycling. If city workers didn’t deliver a trash cart to your home, contact them here.

A bill in the Ohio legislature would ban licensed counselors from attempting to change a youth’s sexual orientation. The practice, known as “conversion therapy,” is widely perceived as unscientific and psychologically damaging and demeaning. California and New Jersey banned conversion therapies in the past year.

Ohio’s legislative leaders on Friday promised to make a Medicaid overhaul a focus of the ongoing fall session. It’s so far unclear what exactly the overhaul will involve. Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature has refused to take up a federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would expand eligibility for the federal-state health care program to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio estimates the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans, and it’s supported by Gov. John Kasich. But Republican legislators are skeptical of expanding a government-run health care program and claim the federal government wouldn’t be able to meet its obligations to the program, even though the federal government has met its payments since Medicaid was created in 1965.

Although insurance plans in Obamacare’s online marketplace (HealthCare.gov) offer lower premiums, the reduced prices come with less options for doctors and hospitals. But supporters argue some health care coverage is better than no health care coverage.

The Ohio branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, today announced a slate of Democratic endorsements for state offices, including Ed FitzGerald for governor, David Pepper for attorney general, Nina Turner for secretary of state, Connie Pillich for treasurer and John Patrick Carney for auditor.

A registry helps connect University of Cincinnati Medical Center researchers with people with a personal or family history of breast cancer. About 5,600 people are currently on the list, which researchers can tap into to collect data or solicit individuals for studies.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is investing its single largest contribution ever on treatments for mental health and behavioral issues.

Ohio gas prices dipped further this week.

A grandfather chastised his daughter in a letter for kicking out his gay grandson: “He was born this way and didn't choose it more than he being left-handed. You, however, have made a choice of being hurtful, narrow-minded and backward. So while we are in the business of disowning children, I think I'll take this moment to say goodbye to you.”

Designing an anti-poaching drone could earn someone $25,000.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.01.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, Health care, Budget at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Federal government shuts down, Obamacare opens for enrollment, Qualls picks vice mayor

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

The federal government shut down today for the first time in 17 years after House Republicans, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, refused to pass a budget bill that didn’t repeal, delay or otherwise weaken Obamacare, the controversial health care law that Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama strongly support. Federal law requires government agencies to largely shut down and furlough non-essential employees if lawmakers fail to pass a budget that funds government services. The showdown is the latest in Republican efforts to repeal or weaken the president’s signature health care law. Republicans claim Obamacare is an example of government overreach that burdens the economy, while Democrats say the law will help millions of Americans receive health insurance and clamp down on rising health care costs.

Mayor Mark Mallory and other community leaders yesterday jumpstarted a six-month effort to get as many people signed up for Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which opened for enrollment today at www.healthcare.gov. At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and $45,960, will be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest. Various local groups, including the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Freestore Foodbank, will participate in the outreach campaigns, which will attempt to enroll as many Ohioans as possible despite Republican legislators’ attempts to obstruct the efforts.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says she would pick Councilman Wendell Young as her vice mayor if she’s elected mayor this November and Young wins re-election. Qualls is running for mayor against fellow Democrat and ex-Councilman John Cranley. Although Qualls and Cranley agree on a host of issues, they are completely divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The issues took much of the spotlight during the first post-primary mayoral debate.

Ohio and Ky. officials say they expect to break ground on the Brent Spence Bridge project in 2015, but no funding plan is yet in place. Officials agree tolling will be part of funding the $2.5-billion project, but motor fuel taxes, subsidies and a loan from the federal government could also play a role. The project is nationally recognized as necessary because of the current bridge’s deteriorating condition.

The Cincinnati Reds set an attendance record this season.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still extremely sure humans are causing global warming.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.25.2013
Posted In: News, Business, City Council, Budget at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach helps gunshot victim, Pure Romance to stay in Ohio, Council denies car allowances

Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner, Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.

Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city, which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10 years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup.

City Council yesterday unanimously rejected restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but council members called the restorations out of touch.

The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth.

The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to avoid litigation.

Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature.

Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.

Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014 ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.

Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents.

The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge.

The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.

A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.”

Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.24.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, City Council at 11:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Denies Car Allowances, Other Budget Restorations

Human services and parks funding to be restored; more than $70,000 stripped from motion

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously stripped budget restorations that would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members.

“It seems disingenuous that we would restore funding to the top earners in our city for car allowances and cost-saving days and also show, as we did last June, that we are willing to make sacrifices along with our employees,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said at the committee meeting. “When we ask people not to take a raise for five years or to not take a car allowance, it’s important for us to also make sacrifices.”

Seelbach added that he hopes City Council’s decision will send “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.”

The city previously eliminated some paid work days and car allowances as part of broader cuts to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops or firefighters. But City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 asked council members to use higher-than-projected revenues to undo $6.7 million in cuts, including $26,640 in car allowances for city directors, $18,000 in council members office budgets and $26,200 in paid work days for council members and the mayor.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat on Friday that restoring the car allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness. She said the car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she added, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.

But some council members, particularly Seelbach, called the restorations out of touch.

“I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” Seelbach told CityBeat on Friday. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”

The City Council motions passed on Tuesday remove the provisions for car allowances, paid work days and City Council office budgets but keep earlier proposals from council members, including restorations to human services funding and city parks.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Poverty, Pensions at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative

Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied" childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center, but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.

The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees, such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much less a $5,000 car allowance.

The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.

State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.

The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.

An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.

A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.

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by German Lopez 09.20.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Budget at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
city hall

City Administration Defends Car Allowances

Restorations would subsidize car use for mayor, city manager, other directors

Just a few months after the city avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees, City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 proposed restoring $26,640 in vehicle allowances that would subsidize car use for the city manager, the mayor and other director-level positions in the city administration.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat that restoring the allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness.

Olberding says car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she explains, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.

“Cutting it reneges on their original offer and part of the pretense under which they took the job,” Olberding says, adding that failing to restore the compensation promises could make future potential hires reluctant to work in Cincinnati.

But given Cincinnati’s ongoing budget problems, some council members say the proposal is out of touch.

“Are you kidding me?” asked Councilman Chris Seelbach at the Sept. 16 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “I just question the judgment of an administration that would make that kind of recommendation given our current financial situation. I’m offended that it would be even recommended.”

Even though City Council managed to avoid layoffs in this year’s budget, Cincinnati’s operating budget remains structurally unbalanced, which means the city will have to come up with new revenue or cuts to balance the budget in upcoming years.

Seelbach told CityBeat he doesn’t agree with the competitiveness arguments.

“Im more concerned with the garbage worker whos making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance, he says. If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”

Still, Olberding points out that city directors often need to drive more than the typical worker, whether it’s to get to public meetings, in case of an emergency or as a natural consequence of being on call 24/7. She says that justifies what she sees as a small cost.

The restoration was tucked into a proposal from the city manager that restores more than $6.7 million in previous cuts by using revenue left over from the previous budget cycle. The car allowance portion is about 0.3 percent of the total proposal and less than one-hundredth of a percent of the city’s overall operating budget.

For some city officials, the issue gets to what they perceive as a disconnect between private individuals and the government: Although thousands of dollars might seem like a lot of money to the typical person, the sum is usually worth much less than a penny on the dollar in city budget terms.

But Seelbach says garbage collectors and other city workers who havent received a raise in years would be thrilled to split $22,000, even if the sum doesnt mean much in total budget terms.

It shows a lack of respect for the people who make this city work,” Seelbach says.

The proposal also comes shortly after a tense budget showdown and in the middle of an election year for City Council and the mayors office.

Dohoney repeatedly said throughout the past year that the city would have to lay off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters, if it didn’t lease its parking meters to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The city ultimately avoided the layoffs without the parking lease by making cuts in various areas, including the city’s parks, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues, but the city is still pursuing the lease to pay for economic development projects.

City Council will take up the restoration measures at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24.

Updated at 4:09 p.m. with comments from Councilman Chris Seelbach.

 
 

 

 

 
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