A Dec. 5 report is encouraging Cincinnati to become the solar energy capital of Ohio and the broader region. The report, titled “Building a Solar Cincinnati,” was put together by Environment Ohio to show the benefits and potential of Cincinnati regarding solar power.
Christian Adams, who wrote the report along with Julian Boggs, says Cincinnati is especially poised to take charge in this renewable energy front, in contrast to the rest of the state, which gets 82 percent of its electricity from coal. Adams points to the sustainability-minded city officials and public, a “budding solar business sector” and the great business environment as the city as reasons why Cincinnati could become a pivotal leader.
With 21 public solar installations to date, the city has already seen some of the benefits of solar power. The most obvious benefit is cleaner air, which leads to better overall health and helps combat global warming. But the report points out that local solar initiatives mean local jobs. “You can’t export these jobs,” Adams says. “It’s a great opportunity for economic revitalization.”
With solar energy comes an array of job opportunities for solar installers, solar designers, engineers, construction workers, project managers, sales associates and marketing consultants. That’s enough to create brisk job creation. The report points out “energy-related segments of the clean economy added jobs at a torrid pace over the last few years, bucking trends of the Great Recession.”
Still, there are hurdles.
Although solar energy saves money in the long term, installing solar
panels has a high upfront cost. The cost can make the short term too bleak for many potential customers.
To help overcome the short-term problem, the report suggests third-party financing. In these financing agreements, customers agree to give up roof space to have a solar power company install solar panels, and then customers agree to buy their power needs from the company. It’s a win for the solar power company because the panels eventually pay for themselves through new customers, and it’s a win for the customer because he sees more stable, lower energy costs and cleaner air. Adams points out that a few businesses and individuals in the area have already taken part in such agreements with great success.
There are also some incentives already in place to encourage solar energy. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, which was passed in 2008, pushes utility companies into the renewable energy market with Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are credits utility companies must earn to meet annual benchmarks by installing solar panels or purchasing them from third parties. Duke Energy has followed the law’s requirements by establishing its own renewable energy credit program.
Ohioans also have access to some tax breaks — the Energy Conversion Facilities Sales Tax Exemption, Air-Quality Improvement Tax Incentives and Qualified Energy Property Tax Exemptions — and loan programs — the Energy Loan Fund and Advanced Energy Fund — that encourage solar and other renewable energy sources.
Larry Falkin, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ), says the report didn’t have much new information, but he’s glad it can be used to push solar energy to the broader public. He touted the benefits of job creation and reducing reliance on foreign energy sources by moving toward energy independence.
For now, the city is mostly taking the approach of leading by example. Falkin says the city is acting like a “model” for solar energy. Cincinnati added solar installations to two city facilities this year, and another will be added by the end of the month. Falkin’s office is also working together with different organizations to keep any momentum going.
Adams and Falkin both attended a Dec. 5 roundtable discussion
that engaged regional officials, including solar businesses,
environmental and sustainability groups, education leaders and the
Cincinnati Zoo. They both said the roundtable went well.
“I think all the right people are coming together and doing the right things to try to move us forward,” Falkin says.
The city of Cincinnati is suspending its relationship with SoMoLend, the local startup that the city partnered with in December to connect small businesses and startups to $400,000 in loans.
The broken partnership comes in response to accusations of fraud from the Ohio Division of Securities that have forced SoMoLend to stop giving out loans in the state and could lead to the business’s shutdown.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat in an email that although the city partnered with SoMoLend in December, it has yet to give out any loans through the crowdfunding incubator.
The Ohio Division of Securities says SoMoLend failed to gather the proper federal and state licenses for a peer-to-peer lending business and falsely inflated its performance and financing figures.
SoMoLend gained local and national recognition for supposedly helping foster startup and small businesses by linking them to loans through crowdfunding — a particularly promising proposition given the state of the economy and research from the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows startups are the best drivers for economic and job growth.
But with the extent of the charges, it’s questionable whether SoMoLend had any success to begin with.
Candace Klein, CEO of SoMoLend, told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Sunday that the company is currently in talks with the state. She stressed that the Ohio Division of Securities won’t issue a final order against SoMoLend until after a hearing scheduled for October.
SoMoLend, which stands for Social Mobile Local Lending, was founded in 2011. The business’s specialty is using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders. It then packages the loans to sell them as notes and charges a fee or commission for its services.
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).
The partnership will aid small businesses and startups through crowd funding, which connects multiple potential lenders so no single investor, including the city government, is carrying the a bulk of the burden. Since crowd funding gets more investors involved, it can also raise more money for promising startups and small businesses.
Businesses will be picked through SoMoLend’s typical application process, which emphasizes startups and small businesses. Successful applicants usually have 15 or fewer employees, meet a few standards regarding business and personal finances and prove they actually need a commercial loan. In the past, businesses have raised as much as $1 million in loans with SoMoLend.
Applicants will also have to go through the city’s application process. The city government will look at how many jobs are created, what’s the capital investment involved, how much the city will give relative to private lenders and other similar metrics.
Even as the economy recovers, small businesses and startups are having a tough time getting loans in comparison to bigger businesses. So the focus on small businesses and startups is in part to bring beneficial fairness to the system, says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson. “Access to capital at all levels has to happen. And the city government feels like small businesses are key to growth in our local economy.”
The partnership’s focus on startups is economically sound. Governments and politicians love to herald small businesses as the drivers of economic growth, but studies suggest startups are more deserving of the praise. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that young small businesses, or startups, are the key drivers to economic and job growth.
As for why SoMoLend was picked over other platforms, Olberding says location and history played a role: “It’s a local small business, so it’s … demonstrating what we’re talking about. It’s also a demonstrated success in terms of bringing viable businesses to the market.”
The partnership is part of an ongoing effort to spur small businesses and startups in Cincinnati. SBAC was created in 2012 to pave a clearer, better path that encourages such businesses in the city. SBAC reviewed, gave feedback and approved the new partnership earlier today.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, head of SBAC, praised the partnership in a statement: “I am excited that the SBAC approved the city’s new partnership with SoMoLend today. By making city lending more efficient and expanding the network of small businesses receiving city assistance, this new partnership fits well into the SBAC’s goal of making Cincinnati a better place for small business.”
An infographic from Pew Charitable Trusts shows Ohio ranked No. 46 out of all the states for job creation in the past year, beating only Wisconsin, Maine and Wyoming and tying with Alaska.
Between April 2012 and April this year, Ohio added 4,400 jobs — a 0.1-percent increase in the state's employment.
The three states below Ohio and Alaska — Wisconsin, Maine and Wyoming — had a drop in employment ranging from 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent.
North Dakota topped the rankings with 15,900 new jobs — a 3.7-percent increase in employment — largely driven by the state's ongoing oil and gas boom.
The statistics coincide with previous warnings from liberal and conservative think tanks about the state's economy, signifying that Ohio is not undergoing the "economic miracle" that Gov. John Kasich and other state officials often tout.
Here is the full infographic, which uses job data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Update (1:57 p.m.): Clarified that Ohio tied, not beat, Alaska.
With a temporary boost to the federal food stamp program coming to an end this November, more than 1.8 million Ohioans — 16 percent of the state’s population — will receive significantly less food aid, according to an Aug. 2 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
The report calculates that the cut is the equivalent to taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four. After the cut, the food stamp program will provide each person with less than $1.40 per meal, according to CBPP’s calculations.
Citing research from the USDA that shows many low-income families still fail to meet basic standards for food security, CBPP says the cuts will hit families that arguably need more, not less, help: “Given this research and the growing awareness of the inadequacy of the current SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit allotments, we can reasonably assume that a reduction in SNAP benefit levels of this size will significantly increase the number of poor households that have difficulty affording adequate food this fall.”
Although the federal food stamp program has been cut before, it’s never been cut to this extent, according to CBPP. “There have been some cuts in specific states, but these cuts have not typically been as large or affected as many people as what will occur this November,” the report reads.
The reductions could also have a broader economic impact: Every $1 increase in food aid generates about $1.70 in economic activity, according to progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
“Ohio’s foodbanks and hunger charities cannot respond to increasing hunger on their own,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, in a statement released by Policy Matters. “SNAP takes Ohioans out of our food pantry lines and puts them into grocery store checkout lines. It provides supplemental food to the most vulnerable among us. Now is not the time to further reduce this already modest assistance to struggling families.”
About 48 percent of Cincinnati children are in poverty, according to a 2011 study from the National Center for Children in Poverty. Despite that, city funding to human services that benefits low-income families has been cut throughout the past decade. CityBeat covered that issue in greater detail here.
The cut to the federal food stamp program kicks in automatically in November instead of the original April 2014 sunset date as a result of laws passed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Congress. Obama and congressional Democrats are now urging legislation that would remedy the situation, but it’s unlikely anything will pass the gridlocked Congress.
Republicans are preparing a bill that would further cut the food stamp program, which they see as too generous and expensive. From Fox News: “Reps. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, two Republicans who helped design the bill, said the legislation would find the savings by tightening eligibility standards and imposing new work requirements. It would also likely try to reduce the rolls by requiring drug testing and barring convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles from receiving food stamps.”
Gov. John Kasich touted a rosy, progressive vision when announcing his education reform plan Jan. 31, but reality does not match the governor’s optimism. It’s true Kasich’s proposed 2014-2015 budget
will not reduce school funding, but under the Kasich administration,
local schools will still have a net loss in state funds.
The governor’s office released tentative budget numbers yesterday that show the Kasich plan will give Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) $8.8 million more funding for the 2014 fiscal year. But that’s not enough to make up for the $39 million CPS will lose in the same fiscal year due to Kasich’s first budget, which was passed passed in 2011. Even with the new education plan, the net loss in the 2014 fiscal year is $30.2 million.
The problem is Kasich’s first budget had massive cuts for schools. The elimination of the tangible personal
property reimbursements (TPP) hit CPS particularly hard, as CityBeat previously covered (“Battered But Not Broken,”
issue of Oct. 3). In the Cut Hurts Ohio website, Innovation Ohio and Policy Matters Ohio estimated Kasich’s budget cuts resulted in $1.8 billion less funding for
education statewide. In Hamilton County, the cuts led to
$117 million less funding.
Kasich’s massive cuts didn’t even lead to lower taxes for many Ohioans. A report from Innovation Ohio found school districts and voters made up for the big education cuts with $487 million in new school levies. In 2012, Cincinnati voters approved a $51.5 million levy for CPS. The school levies are a direct increase on local income and property taxes, but they’re measures Ohioans clearly felt they had to take in the face of big state budget cuts.
For more analysis of Kasich’s budget, check out CityBeat’s other coverage:
The news comes at a time when FreedomOhio is stepping up its efforts to get an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage in Ohio on the 2013 ballot.
This article originally credited Equality Ohio for the amendment. The
amendment push is being led by FreedomOhio, a different pro-gay
The campaign for Freedom to Marry Ohio, the amendment that would legalize same-sex marriage, previously touted an economic study that showed Ohio could bring in $100-126 million of economic growth within three years of legalizing same-sex marriage and sustain 1,160-1,450 Ohio jobs. In Hamilton County, same-sex marriage legalization would bring in $8.3 million. However, the study did not take into account a phenomenon dubbed “marriage tourism,” which involves same-sex couples visiting a state mostly to get married; so it’s possible the economic impact could be even greater than the study suggests.The study also found that more than 9,800 out of more than 19,600 same-sex marriage couples in Ohio would marry within three years if it was legal, and nearly 900 out of nearly 1,800 in Hamilton County would marry within three years. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg previously touted same-sex marriage legalization for its economic boost to his city. He said it had produced $259 million in economic growth in New York City.
As Mitt Romney gets ready to attend a $2,500 a plate fundraiser at downtown’s Great American Tower, the local Democratic Party chairman says the presidential hopeful’s economic plan “would do nothing to create jobs now.”
Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke released a statement this afternoon describing why he believes a Romney presidency would be disastrous for middle-class Americans.
Meanwhile, a group of community leaders led a protest outside of the East Fourth Street office building as attendees arrived for the fundraiser. The protest was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199, which represents more than 30,000 health-care and social service workers across Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
“Mitt Romney holding $2,500 per person fundraiser at the Great American Tower is a perfect example of exactly who he is and who he represents,” said Becky Williams, SEIU’s district president, in a prepared statement. “While Romney is hobnobbing on the rooftop with his wealthy donors hosted by American Financial Group, ordinary Ohioans are struggling to find work and provide for their families.”
The co-host for the fundraiser is S. Craig Lindner, co-president and director of American Financial Group Inc., whose total compensation in 2010 totaled $8.3 million, according to Forbes magazine.
“Nothing Mitt Romney says can change the fact that he spent his career as a corporate buyout specialist who put profits over people and lined his pockets by outsourcing jobs, closing down plants and laying off workers,” Burke said.
“His 59-point economic plan would do nothing to create jobs now, fix America’s economy or help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. His tax plan would benefit the ultra-wealthy and do nothing to help middle-class families in Greater Cincinnati,” Burke added.
In preparation for Romney’s visit today, the Democratic National Committee pointed out that the investment firm once led by the candidate, Bain Capital, rejected a government offer to invest in General Motors (GM) during the 2008 financial crisis.
Romney has said on the campaign trail that he opposed the government bailout of U.S. automakers because the private market would have provided loans so GM and Chrysler Corp. could go through managed bankruptcy. But sources told The New York Times that Bain turned down an offer to help GM at the time.
“To go through the bankruptcy process, both companies needed billions of dollars in financing, money that auto executives and government officials who were involved with Mr. Obama’s auto task force say was not available at a time when the credit markets had dried up,” the article stated.
It added, “The only entity that could provide the $80 billion needed, they say, was the federal government. No private companies would come to the industry’s aid, and the only path through bankruptcy would have been Chapter 7 liquidation, not the more orderly Chapter 11 reorganization, these people said.”
The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every $100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.
The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.
“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same thing we are doing today,” Portune said.
Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to 6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10 years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the first five.
Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.
Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund stable in years to come.
Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow the tax increase to expire.
Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.
Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with either choice.
“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.
Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for the rollback reduction.
Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change, a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make to help out with the stadium funding burden.