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by German Lopez 06.12.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Budget, Courts at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
downtown grocery

Court Sides with City on Parking Plan

City plans to move forward as some council members suggest a repeal

In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward.

But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget for the next two years.

But critics, including those who led the referendum efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’ operation hours, will hurt downtown business.

In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of todays ruling are exhausted or called off.

“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.

Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the budget and other projects.

“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he says.

But first, the city must follow through with legal processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.

Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.

But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.

At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.

In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill for our kids to pay.”

Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.

My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.

Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.

The ruling also allows the city to once again use emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.

Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the parking plan.

“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the ruling.

“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and, therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker wrote in his dissent.

The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox, Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and enforcement.

The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and pursue major development projects downtown.

Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.

City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.

Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.

We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.

Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.

Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls statement.

Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.

by Andy Brownfield 12.14.2012
city hall

Council Passes Budget Reliant on Parking Lease

Council also approves 2014 property tax increase

Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.

Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.

Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.

The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.

Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.

“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”

Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities. 

Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.

If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts. 

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.

The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes. 

The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.

Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.

by German Lopez 12.12.2012

Morning News and Stuff

Turnpike could remain public, asbestos bill passes, $150 million bid for parking services

The Ohio Turnpike will remain a public asset, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Many Ohioans have been worried Gov. John Kasich would attempt to privatize the Turnpike in order to pay for transportation projects; instead, the governor will try to generate revenue for state infrastructure projects elsewhere, perhaps by using the Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich will unveil his full plans Thursday and Friday.

The asbestos lawsuit bill is heading to Kasich to be signed. The bill attempts to curb duplicate lawsuits over on-the-job asbestos exposure. Supporters of the bill say it will prevent double-dipping by victims, but opponents say the bill will impede legitimate cases. Ohio has one of the largest backlogs of on-the-job asbestos exposure cases.

City Manager Milton Dohoney has released some of the potential bids for the city’s parking services, and one bidder is offering $100 to $150 million. Dohoney says the budget can only be balanced if parking services are privatized or the city lays off 344 employees. But Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is speaking out against the privatization of the city’s parking services. In a statement, Sittenfeld said, “Outsourcing our parking system robs the city of future revenue, and also will mean higher parking rates, longer hours of enforcement, and more parking tickets.”

LGBT rights are becoming “the new normal,” but not for Western & Southern or American Financial Group. In the 2012 Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign gave 252 companies a 100-percent score for LGBT rights. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble got a 90 percent, Macy’s got a 90 percent, Kroger got an 85 percent, Fifth Third Bank got an 85 percent, Omnicare got a 15 percent, American Financial Group got a 0 percent and Western & Southern got a 0 percent. The rankings, dubbed a “Buyer’s Guide,” can be found here.

The Sierra Club says Cincinnati has some of the best and worst transportation projects. In its annual report, the environmental group praised the Cincinnati streetcar, claiming the transportation project will attract residents and business owners. But the organization slammed the Eastern Corridor Highway project because of its negative impact on the Little Miami River and the small village of Newtown. The Sierra Club says the purpose of the report is to shed light on the more than $200 billion spent on transportation projects every year.

University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono is getting a 10-year contract.

The disease-carrying Walnut Twig Beetle has been discovered in southwest Ohio. The beetle is known for carrying Thousand Cankers Disease, which threatens the health of walnut trees. So far, no trees have been determined to be infected.

Ohio Gov. Kasich, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will meet today to discuss funding for the Brent Spence Bridge project. If the bridge project starts in 2014, northern Kentucky and Cincinnati could save $18 billion in fuel and congestion costs, according to the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition.

Following the defeat of Issue 2, the Ohio Senate is taking on redistricting reform, but opponents in the House say there isn’t enough time to tackle the issue. The current redistricting system is widely abused by politicians on both sides of the aisle in a process called “gerrymandering,” which involves politicians redrawing district lines in politically beneficial ways. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County, heavily diluting the impact of Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban vote.

Ohio employers are more aware of wellness than employers in other states, a new survey found. Wellness programs are one way employers can bring down health-care expenditures as cost shifting feels the pinch of diminishing returns.

However, Ohio ranked No. 35 in a nationwide health survey.

Ohio district didn't win federal Race to the Top education funds in the latest competition.

Internet cafe legislation is dead for the year. Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus announced the legislation, which essentially puts Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors out of business. State officials, including Attorney General Mike DeWine, have been pushing for regulations or a ban on the businesses because they see them as a breeding ground for criminal activity.

The final 2011-2012 school report cards will not be available until 2013. The report cards were originally delayed due to an investigation into fraudulent attendance reports.

Michigan may have approved its anti-union right-to-work law, but Ohio is not eager to follow. State Democrats are already preparing for a possible battle over the issue, but even Republican Gov. John Kasich says he’s not currently interested in a right-to-work law.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is loosening hazardous waste reporting requirements for companies. If the rules go into effect, regulated facilities will report on hazardous waste once every two years instead of once a year. The rule changes will get a public hearing on Dec. 19 in Columbus.

In a question-and-answer session Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” (Hint: The answer to both questions is yes.) The Supreme Court recently agreed to tackle the same-sex marriage issue. CityBeat wrote about same-sex marriage in Ohio here.

Dogs are now capable of driving, and parrots now have vehicles too. But can our new animal overlords shoot magic foam into the body to stop major bleeding? Because we can.

by Hannah McCartney 03.01.2013

Seelbach Announces "Plan S" Budget Alternative

Third proposal would include ballot amendments, $5 million in spending cuts

City Councilmember Chris Seelbach this afternoon released a third alternative to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.'s budget plans, both of which have received negative feedback from the public.

Like Dohoney's "Plan B" (read about that here), Plan S would not lease the city's parking system to a private operator, a solution that citizens and officials are concerned would cause parking rates to skyrocket and ultimately not serve as a sustainable solution to the city's budget problems.

Instead, Plan S would involve redirecting $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the city's $25 million deficit, $5 million in spending cuts based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.

Plan S is Seelbach's alternative to Dohoney's Plan B, which also does not privatize parking. Under Plan B, the city would be forced to lay off 344 public employees, including 80 firefighters and 189 police positions, and close three community centers and six pools.

Instead, the $5 million in spending cuts would include reductions to city administrative services, council and the mayor’s office, some recreation and health programs and consolidation of some police and fire services. It would also freeze 20 vacant city positions and reduce car allowances for city employees. Seelbach says he determined who would suffer these cuts by exploring city services citizens valued least during last fall's Priority-Driven Budget Initiative.

If council were to approve pursuing Seelbach's Plan S, there's a possibility it could send the city back to the drawing board, should voters choose not to approve the proposed charter amendments.

"To me it seems like the public is overwhelmingly against parking, but we still have to balance our budget. ... I'm providing the public an alternative. If [the charter amendments are] something the voters would reject, I respect that and then we’d have to go back to the table and either do the leasing of parking or layoff 300 police and fire officers," Seelbach says.

The parking plan is expected to be voted on during the Budget and Finance Committee's meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 4.

by German Lopez 12.11.2012
Posted In: Energy, Economy, News, Budget, Governor, Privatization at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich lacks re-election support, budget faces scrutiny, city increasing green incentives

For the first time since inauguration, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a positive approval rating, but a plurality of registered voters say Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term. The Quinnipac University poll attributed the increase in Kasich’s approval rating to “high levels of satisfaction among Ohio voters with life in the Buckeye State.” About 42 percent of respondents approved of Kasich, while 35 percent disapproved. About 42 percent said Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term, while 36 percent said he does. The poll surveyed 1,165 registered voters with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

Last night, Cincinnati held its final public hearing on City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposed budget. About 40 people spoke during the meeting, with many voicing concern about Media Bridges funding, which CityBeat recently covered here. The budget has also come under scrutiny due to its privatization of parking services, but Dohoney says the choice is privatization or 344 layoffs.

Cincinnati plans to bolster its green building incentives. City officials are trying to amend the city’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to encourage higher levels of investment in green projects. Since LEED standards were first approved in 2009, they have been criticized for only offering strong incentives for lower levels of certification. The amendment seeks to make the higher levels of certification more appealing.

University Hospital is being renamed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

An “anti-immigrant bill” proposed by Cincinnati’s Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz is not being received well by Innovation Ohio. S.B. 323 seeks to limit workers’ compensation to illegal immigrants, but the Ohio policy research group is not sure that’s a legitimate problem. The organization is also worried the bill will impose a regulatory burden on the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Ohio’s workers without providing extra funds and training to carry out the regulations.

Ohio is improving in its battle against human trafficking. The state earned a “C” and it was labeled “most improved” in a new report from the Polaris Project. But one state legislator wants to go further by placing tougher standards on “johns” participating in the sex trade. CityBeat previously wrote about the human trafficking problem in Ohio here.

The Ohio Tax Credit Authority approved enough credits to help create about 500 jobs in Greater Cincinnati.

Michigan may have recently passed its anti-union “right-to-work” law, but Gov. Kasich does not share a similar interest.

Kasich will announce his changes to the Ohio Turnpike Thursday and Friday. The governor says his proposed changes will unlock “greater wealth,” but critics are worried Kasich is about to sell off a major public asset.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is still defending his decisions during the lead-up the election. Husted has now become infamous nationwide due to his pre-election record, which CityBeat wrote about here.

Even Jesus would be jealous. Science can now turn human urine into brain cells.
by German Lopez 03.06.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Privatization, Parking, Budget at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
downtown grocery

Council Approves Parking Plan, Judge Orders Temporary Halt

Injunction puts agreement to lease parking assets on hold

In a 5-4 vote today, City Council approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance deficits for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects in Downtown, but the plan is now being held up by a Hamilton County judge's temporary restraining order (TRO).

The plan was approved with an emergency clause, which means it is not subject to referendum, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Councilman Chris Seelbach joined the parking plan’s five supporters in approving the emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation by removing a 30-day waiting period.

Shortly after the parking plan was approved by City Council, Judge Robert Winkler signed a TRO that will halt its implementation for at least one week. The judge’s action will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

Mayor Mark Mallory says the emergency clause was passed to speed up the plan’s implementation in time for the budget that will begin July 1, not to suppress voters: “I don't think that any member of council has ever voted for an emergency clause in an effort to keep voters from being able to reverse the decision that the council is making, so I take exception with that characterization.”

The parking plan got its required fifth vote, up from a 4-3 vote in the Budget and Finance Committee Monday, from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who abstained from voting in the committee meeting because she said she was concerned about the city’s long-term fiscal outlook. She says her concerns were eased after she read the leasing agreement and listened to a presentation from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that gave City Council a few options for fixing the city’s structural deficits.

The parking plan’s other supporters were council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young. Council members Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against the plan.

The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal will produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments will generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.

Opponents say they are concerned the plan will give up too much control of the city’s parking meters and garages, which they say could lead to spikes in parking rates.

Under the initial plan, downtown rates will remain at $2 an hour and neighborhood rates will be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, according to Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.

The city will be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.

Opponents also say the money from the parking plan is being used too quickly, which does little to alleviate the city’s structural deficits.

Dohoney previously argued the plan will help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.

“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said Monday. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.”

With the lease agreement approved, it is now up to the Port Authority to develop and publicize the bond documents that will further detail the framework of the parking plan.

Earlier in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration reform.

Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.

by German Lopez 01.24.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Economy, Education, Privatization, Budget at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach tired of streetcar delays, Pentagon to lift combat ban for women, JobsOhio in court

Council Member Chris Seelbach says he’s getting impatient with streetcar delays. During a series of complaints aired on Twitter, Seelbach wrote the deadline for streetcar operation should be the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2015. This week’s CityBeat cover story explains some of the delays and how the streetcar relates to the 2013 mayor’s race.

The Pentagon is planning to lift the ban on women in combat situations. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the decision came after a recommendation from his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Between the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and this decision, President Barack Obama’s administration has been one of the most inclusive when it comes to the military.

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of JobsOhio. Policy group ProgressOhio says it might be illegal to use state liquor profits to fund JobsOhio, a private nonprofit organization Gov. John Kasich set up to drive economic growth in the state.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game could bring $60-$80 million to Cincinnati, according to Julie Heath, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center. It was recently announced Cincinnati will host the game in 2015.

Gov. Kasich said he won’t oust State Board of Education President Debe Terhar after she made a Facebook post comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler. Kasich is happy she admitted it was a mistake, and he said he will leave it at that. Democrats called for her ousting Tuesday.

American Military Partner Association, a national organization that supports LGBT veterans, endorsed FreedomOhio’s same-sex marriage amendment. If voters approve the amendment this November, gay marriage will be legalized in Ohio. CityBeat wrote more about FreedomOhio’s ballot initiative here.

Cincinnati Public Schools is piloting an after-school program focusing on the arts. The high-energy sessions are apparently proving to be a hit among students so far.

U.S. Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from West Chester, says President Barack Obama is out to annihilate the Republican Party. I’m not seeing the problem here.

Moody’s doesn’t have confidence in U.S. nonprofit hospitals.

New science makes it possible to detect brain damage in football players that previously couldn’t be seen until a victim was dead. CityBeat covered how head trauma relates to former Bengals players' workers' comp claims here.

Popular Science explains how to make the perfect snowball.

by German Lopez 02.04.2013
Posted In: Prisons, Privatization, News, Economy, Budget at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
Liberty for Sale

Morning News and Stuff

Violence at private prison, JobsOhio gets liquor funds, Kasich's budget blueprint

There’s even more bad news coming from Ohio’s newly privatized prison. Violence last week forced Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to call in the state’s special response team, according to Plunderbund. Two teams from the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation were dispatched. Gov. John Kasich pushed prison privatization in his 2012-2013 budget to save costs. CityBeat covered private prisons and the shady connections CCA had to the current state government prior to the sale here.

There might be a court case disputing JobsOhio’s constitutionality, but that hasn’t stopped the state government from moving forward with implementing the private, nonprofit agency. On Friday, the state announced it transferred $500 million in state liquor funds to JobsOhio. The Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up a case from ProgressOhio disputing whether state funds can be used for the private agency. Kasich established the agency in an effort to encourage job growth in Ohio.

Kasich will reveal the blueprint for his 2014-2015 budget plan later today. According to Gongwer, his proposed budget will cut personal income taxes across the board and offset the cuts by closing loopholes and broadening the sales tax base. The governor has long been eying an income tax cut. He previously suggested raising the oil and gas severance tax to help pay for a tax cut, but the plan faces bipartisan opposition.

In the 2013 mayoral race, John Cranley is currently outraising Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, but both Democrats are fairly close. Qualls has raised $134,188, while Cranley has raised $170,877. Most of the race has focused on the streetcar so far, with Qualls supporting and Cranley against the twice-voter-approved transit project.

The city of Cincinnati and Duke Energy have reached a limited agreement to meet in court to settle who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar’s tracks. As part of the agreement, Duke will begin moving lines in the next few weeks, even while the city and Duke wait for courts to decide who will pay for moving the lines. Mayor Mark Mallory also announced the city will try to finish the streetcar project in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, but he added there are no guarantees. For more on the streetcar and how it relates to the 2013 mayoral race, check out CityBeat’s cover story.

Libertarian Jim Berns recently forced a mayoral primary by entering the race.

Community leaders around Greater Cincinnati are mapping out veteran services programs.

Ohio is expanding its foreclosure prevention program. The maximum benefit possible has increased from $25,000 to $35,000, and the highest annual household income allowed to participate in the program is now $112,375.

The Ohio Board of Regents finished moving to the Ohio Board of Education building.

Looks like Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich’s Twitter account was hacked.

Smokers will pay higher prices under Obamacare.

Physicists have created crystals that are nearly alive.

by German Lopez 12.04.2012
josh_mandel headshot

Morning News and Stuff

Mandel hires political workers, county will raise taxes, city faces privatization or layoffs

Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.

With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.

Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.

The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.

Cincinnati State is looking to expand.

The Horseshoe Casino has begun its final round of hiring. The casino is set to open in spring 2013. A Washington Post analysis found casinos bring jobs, but also crime, bankruptcy and suicide.

One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.

The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.

The U.S. Supreme Court is delaying action on same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered gay marriage in Ohio and whether Ohioans are ready to embrace it in a Nov. 28 cover story.

A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.

by German Lopez 05.31.2013
Posted In: News, Governor, Privatization at 01:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ed fitzgerald

Proposal to Prevent JobsOhio Audit

FitzGerald calls on Kasich to veto bill

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is calling on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, from fully auditing JobsOhio, following months of controversy surrounding the private nonprofit entity.

"I further encourage the Governor to return to negotiations with Auditor Yost, with the explicit goal of establishing an open and transparent process by which the people of Ohio can be sure JobsOhio is spending our tax dollars efficiently, and that the program is doing what it is supposed to be doing: creating Ohio jobs," FitzGerald said in a statement. "The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable."

Yost claims he can audit JobsOhio's liquor profits, which add up to $100 million a year, and private funds, such as donations.

But the bill effectively defines JobsOhio's liquor profits as private funds that can't be audited by the state auditor. Under the proposal, Yost could only audit liquor profits and excise taxes that JobsOhio owes to the state, with all other funds effectively deemed private.

JobsOhio was established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency's liquor profits come from a lease deal with the state to run Ohio's liquor operations.

Yost argues the liquor profits are intrinsically public money because the money would be in public hands if JobsOhio wasn't handling operations.

But other Republicans, led by Kasich, say opening JobsOhio to full audits would slow down the agency, hindering its ability to quickly react to economic changes and tides. Kasich has often said the private nature of JobsOhio allows it to move at the "speed of business," which he claims fosters stronger economic development in Ohio.

Democrats have pushed back against the notion, saying JobsOhio's private nature only makes it more difficult to hold the state government accountable. With the latest bill, Democrats, who have now taken to dubbing the agency "RobsOhio," say their concerns are being vindicated.

But the bill could have far-reaching effects beyond JobsOhio that would effectively disallow the state auditor to audit privately funded accounts in any institution that receives public funding.

Despite Yost's pleas to involve him in the process, the auditing bill was passed through the Ohio House and Senate in just two days without his input.

Democrats were quick to criticize the bill, asking what JobsOhio has to hide.

Kasich is expected to sign the bill to make it law.

JobsOhio isn't the only privatization scheme pushed by Kasich. He also sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a northeastern Ohio prison, to the Corrections Corporation of America. So far, inmate reports and inspections have largely found deplorable conditions at the Lake Erie facility ("From the Inside," issue of May 29).