Good morning, Cincy. Here’s what’s up today:
The Cincinnati Police Department will pay a local man $25,000 to settle a federal false arrest and first amendment lawsuit. Forest Thorner III was arrested after police took exception to promotional strategies he used to get attention for a friend’s comedy act at the 2012 Party in the Park. Thorner worked the crowd at the event by asking if they wanted to “laugh at the crippled girl,” referring to his friend Ally Bruener. Bruener is in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy and does a comedy act. Thorner would point to Bruener, who would tell a joke or two and then promote an upcoming performance. Someone with the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce overheard Thorner and complained to police, who forcibly removed him from the park. Thorner tried to film the arrest, only to have his camera taken and broken by officers. He was charged with disorderly conduct, but found not guilty after none of the witnesses to the incident corroborated the charges against him.
• Cincinnati City Council had a busy slate yesterday. Council gave its approval to 10 development projects seeking low-income housing tax credits from the state of Ohio, which can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those projects seek to build new affordable housing or rehab existing affordable housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale, Roselawn, College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Evanston, Bond Hill, Hartwell and downtown. The projects collectively represent hundreds of potential additional units of affordable housing.
Which sounds great, right? Except for some controversy. Originally, Council was considering supporting 12 potential developments seeking the credits but paused giving its blessing to two as questions arose. One of the projects, a rehabilitation of the Chapel Street Apartments in Walnut Hills by Talbert House, has caused concerns among the 20 residents who live in the building currently. Talbert House, which recently purchased the property, would like to rehab the 24-unit property into 27 units of permanent supportive housing. That will require the current residents to be relocated, which doesn’t sit well with many of them. Talbert House has pledged to help them find new places to live, but some say they like where they are.
“I don’t want to move,” says Wayne Green, a current resident. “We’re all a family in that building. If they relocate us all, everyone will be spread out.”
Council tabled that project and another in Roselawn after several council members, including Wendell Young and Kevin Flynn, voiced concern over the process by which the projects engaged the surrounding communities. Council members will discuss them at Monday’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting (10 a.m.) and Neighborhoods committee meeting (2 p.m.). Council ’s nod in the form of a resolution gives each project an extra 10 points on the state’s system for rating project proposals. It’s a competitive system that awards points based on each project’s community collaboration, its economic characteristics, whether it targets extremely low-income residents for at least some of its units and other factors. About one-third of applicants receive the credits, and last year five developments in the Cincinnati area received them.
• Council also passed a resolution submitted by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson honoring Cincinnati Herald owner and publisher Marjorie Parham. Parham served as publisher and editor of the Herald, an award-winning weekly that covers Cincinnati’s black community, from 1963 until 1996, an astounding run in the rather brutal and thankless world of journalism. She did everything from write articles and take photos to sweep the floor, she says, in addition to running the business. The Herald, founded in 1955, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
• So, wait. Is Gov. Kasich secretly a Robin Hood type-character? The public school funding proposal he’s tucked into his suggested two-year budget has raised eyebrows as it’s been rolled out over the past couple days. Under Kasich’s proposal, the way public school districts in Ohio get aid from the state would change dramatically. Kasich wants to shift some state funds to districts in areas with lower property and other local tax receipts from areas with higher tax receipts, who can make up the difference by raising their own property taxes.
It’s a way to make up for the disparity between high and low income area schools, Kasich says, and a soundly conservative way to make sure students have a fair shot at succeeding. The change would be capped so that no school lost a dramatic amount of funds. It sounds like a pretty good first step toward fixing the abysmal disparities between the state’s richest and poorest public schools. It also sounds like something Kasich will want to tout if he runs for president. You can expect a lot of blowback from conservative lawmakers in the state house, however, especially those whose districts lose money from the state.
• This gets its own little bullet point because it's important and hard to understand. A caveat: The amounts districts could lose/gain under Kasich's plan seems pretty wonky right now. Check out this chart, which lists which districts will gain and which will lose in Hamilton County, and see if something seems amiss. Yes, Cincinnati Public Schools will gain about 9 percent, or $17 million, under the plan, but that’s not as much as another fairly befuddling district with conceivably higher tax receipts per capita. With a median household income of more than $200,000 and a median home value of more than $900,000, does Indian Hill need a 21 percent-plus boost in state funds for education?
What’s up, all? That’s a rhetorical question. News is what’s up, and here it is.
Answers in Genesis, the Christian organization based in Northern Kentucky that is building a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County, has said it will sue the state of Kentucky over tax credits the state rescinded in December. The state took back the tourism-related credits after controversy over Answers’ hiring practices, which stipulate potential employees must sign a statement of faith and other religious measures. Those violate employment discrimination laws and preclude Answers from getting taxpayer money, state officials say. Answers, on the other hand, says they have a right to require their employees fit with their religious values. They’re suing Kentucky for infringing on their religious liberty. The group also says that because the tax credits are sales tax rebates that originally come from the pockets of visitors, they don’t involve taxpayers from the state as a whole. The group has released a video outlining their side of the debate, which you can watch here. Warning: It’s like, almost half an hour long and is mostly a dude in an ill-fitting blazer talking to a lawyer while both sit in folding chairs. The group looks to build a 500-foot long ark and surrounding theme park, which it says will attract more than a million visitors a year.
• Here’s your morning dose of creepy: Hamilton County lawyers would like to limit testimony about the sexual behavior of Kenneth Douglas, a former county morgue employee who is accused of sexually abusing more than 100 corpses at the morgue from the 1970s to the 1990s. Currently, a federal district court is hearing the case against the county brought by the families of three of the deceased whose bodies were abused. The families say the county was negligent in allowing the abuse to happen. The county is attempting to block some testimony about other instances of abuse, including information Douglas gave to law enforcement about the number of bodies he abused. The county’s lawyers say testimony beyond the three abuse cases in question could be confusing and misleading for the jury. The families suing the county for millions say the other incidents show a clear pattern of behavior Douglas’ supervisors should have known about.
• Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has introduced an initiative to expand the city’s vacant properties registry. Currently, that registry keeps track of bank-owned properties that are currently empty and makes sure the banks aren’t letting them fall into disrepair. But there are loopholes in the system that Sittenfeld would like to close so the city can better hold property owners holding onto vacant buildings accountable. He’d also like to use some of the revenues from the program, which amounted to about $700,000 last year, for hazard abatement and stabilization work.
• Here’s more buzz, and some lack thereof, about a potential presidential bid for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Kasich nearly even with prospective Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Ohio. Hillary took 44 percent of the poll. Kasich took 43 percent. The quintessential swing state, Ohio is shaping up to be very important for presidential hopefuls in 2016, as it has been in past elections. But how much of the above poll’s results are home field advantage, and how much does the poll say about Kasich’s primary chances? A lot and not much, it would seem. Another poll of GOPers in the state had Kasich with a lead over fellow Republicans, but not by much. Kasich led with 14 percent of the poll, followed by Scott Walker, who had 11 percent and Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, who each had 10 percent. That lead isn’t much to go on at this point, but it’s still quite early and Kasich could consolidate some of other potential nominees’ support as the herd thins. More troubling for Kasich, however, is the fact that in other Quinnipiac polls around the country, he barely makes a blip. He finished 13th out of 13 candidates in Florida, for example, and tied for 9th in Pennsylvania, his native state. In contrast with other potential nominees in his party who have national stature for one reason or another — Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz — Kasich will need to significantly expand his visibility in the coming year if he hopes to compete for his party’s nomination.
• Finally, you may have already seen this story about the Detroit dude who walks 21 miles a day to get to work. I think his situation is infuriating and sad but find his attitude inspiring. As a fellow pedestrian commuter (note: my walk is only about a mile and a half, I make it by choice, and only on days when it’s too cold to ride a bike) I think James Robertson is something of a hero. I think the issues raised by Robertson's daily trek are especially pertinent in Cincinnati; a city with a serious love of cars and a hardworking but less-than-ideal transit system. I couldn't help thinking about folks who have appeared in some of our recent stories about the working poor when I read this. Seriously, check this story out if you haven’t already.
Hey all. Let’s talk about news for a minute.
Now that Union Terminal looks to be on its way to renovation and Music Hall has received significant contributions toward the cost of its own fix-up, some preservationists have focused again on Memorial Hall. The building, which sits next to Music Hall on the west side of Washington Park, was designed by renowned architect Samuel Hannaford and built in 1908. Its needs are not quite as large as its gargantuan neighbor: The total cost for renovations is expected to be about $8 million, mere chump change compared to the $120 million Music Hall renovations could run. Development group 3CDC is one of the main drivers of fundraising efforts. It asked Hamilton County Commissioners yesterday for a $1.5 million contribution from the county. Though commissioners wouldn’t commit to anything just yet, Commissioner Greg Hartmann has said some contribution is likely since the building is owned by the county.
• So I’m not a beer fan overall, but I love a good porter on a cold winter day. You know what else I love on a cold winter day (like today, for example)? Cincinnati chili. Having established those facts, let’s just say I’m intrigued by a new beer debuting soon. Blank Slate Brewing Co. has created the Cincy 3-way Porter, which has subtle notes of the spices that make Cincinnati chili famous (or infamous depending on your palate). Again: I like Cincy chili. I like a good porter. But can this possibly be good? Of course I’m going to try it and find out. One note to consider: According to this story in the Business Courier, the malt used to brew the beer is smoked with the distinctive spices — they don’t go in the beer itself. That hopefully means it doesn’t taste like sipping on a serving of Cincy’s favorite meat sauce that just happens to be 7 percent alcohol by volume. Though, hey, I might be open to that, too.
• Is there a way the $2.8 billion Brent Spence Bridge project might be funded without tolls? Don’t hold your breath just yet, but anti-toll groups hope so. Anti-toll group Northern Kentucky United is touting a plan proposed by Sens. Rand Paul and Barbara Boxer that would raise money for the federal Highway Trust Fund by giving U.S. corporations tax breaks to bring more of their estimated $2 trillion in foreign profits back to the U.S. If some of that money flows back here, prodded by a tax break, it could be taxed and the receipts used on infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge. At least, that’s what Northern Kentucky United hopes. The proposal is very similar to one that President Barack Obama has tucked into his budget, which he released yesterday. The anti-toll group says that’s a sign that things could be happening on the federal level and that a plan to use tolls to pay for the bridge’s replacement is premature.
“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the president has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United in a statement on the legislation. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund,” McNee concluded.
Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Steve Beshear of Kentucky presented their plan last week for the bridge, which includes tolls as part of the funding equation. Kasich has cited the increasing costs for the project while it’s delayed — $7 million a month, by some estimates — as a reason officials should move quickly. He claims there’s little chance the federal government will be forthcoming with funds for the project. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund faces insolvency this summer if Congress doesn’t approve new sources of income for infrastructure.
• The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and Cincinnati’s Police Department don’t reflect the area’s demographic makeup, according to data released by both departments and reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s department is 86 percent white and 12 percent black, though the county itself is 62 percent white and 26 percent black. A similar disparity exists in Cincinnati, which is 48 percent white and 45 percent black. Yet its police force is 67 percent white and 30 percent black. Both gaps match up with many other police forces around the country. A study by USA Today found that 80 departments out of 282 in cities with more than 100,000 people had greater than a 10 percentage-point gap between the proportion of black officers and black residents.
• Yesterday was a day for budgets. In addition to the release of President Obama’s budget proposal (more on that in a minute), Gov. John Kasich also released his financial proposals for Ohio’s next two years. Kasich looks to cut income taxes while raising sales taxes, among other moves, which could place more burden on the state’s low-income workers. Kasich has also suggested an increased tax exemption for some of those workers, but that exemption is small and may only account for two or three bucks more in a worker’s paycheck.
On the income tax side, Kasich seeks to cut the state’s rate by 23 percent over the next two years and end the state’s income tax for 900,000 business owners grossing less than $2 million a year. To pay for that, the state’s base sales tax rate will go up to 6.25 percent plus county and local sales taxes. In Hamilton County, the sales tax rate will go up to 7.5 percent. This continues a trend toward relying more on sales tax to fill the state's coffers, something progressive groups say has made the state's tax system more and more regressive over the last few years.
All told, the state will take in $500 million less over the next two years, a nice hefty tax cut Kasich can point to in order to rally the Republican base should he decide to run for president in 2016. You can read more about the finer points of Kasich’s budget in our story here.
• Finally, here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s wide-ranging, $4 trillion budget proposal. Obama looks to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy citizens and give middle class families tax breaks. He calls that plan “middle class economics,” though staunch conservative (and fellow Miami alum) House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has his own name for it: “envy economics.” Those two monikers may foreshadow another long, arduous budget process between Obama and a mostly Republican Congress.
Other points of Obama’s budget: He has proposed the aforementioned plan for paying for infrastructure, a pay raise for federal workers and military personnel and a number of other proposals you can peruse in the story above. Also worth checking out: this breakdown of the budget by federal departments. Let’s play a little game of “one of these things is not like the other.” That’s right: Discretionary spending at the Department of Defense is a mind-blowing $585 billion. That’s more than every other department combined. Obama’s budget increases the DOD’s budget by 4 percent. That’s $23 billion — enough to increase the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget by almost 50 percent. Just leaving that right there for you to chew on.
Gov. John Kasich is touting half a million dollars in tax cuts in his new budget proposal, released Feb. 2. But Ohio’s tax scheme could get more regressive if state lawmakers take it up as is.
The budget proposal would lower income taxes by 23 percent over the next two years and pay for it by raising sales taxes by .5 percent. All told, the proposal means $500 million less in taxes for Ohio residents.
Critics say lower-income residents will benefit least from the proposal. Kasich’s budget allows for a tax exemption increase for as many as 3 million low-income Ohio workers. But that exemption would mean only an extra few dollars per paycheck for most low-income families, according to most analyses. Another part of Kasich's budget proposal would require those making just over the poverty level (a bit more than $11,500 for a single person) to pay premiums on Medicaid. Those premiums would start at about $10 to $20.
Among the biggest moves in Kasich's proposal: a plan that would effectively eliminate the state’s income tax for more than 900,000 people who own small businesses grossing less than $2 million a year.
Studies suggest that the bottom fifth of Ohio earners pay nearly 7 percent of their income in sales taxes, while the top fifth of Ohio earners pay less than 1 percent of their income. A study conducted by liberal-leaning think tank Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found Ohio to have the 18th most regressive tax structure in the country.
"The Ohio income tax is critical to a fair tax system and one that pays for education, health and other key services," said Wendy Patton, a director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a January statement about the state’s tax structure. "Attempts to weaken it will either redistribute income from the poor and the middle class to the rich, or cut needed public services."
When Kasich took office, the income tax rate was nearly 6 percent and Ohio’s sales tax was 5.5 percent, though state lawmakers boosted it to 5.75 percent in 2013. Under Kasich’s new budget proposal, income tax will be just over 4 percent and sales tax will be 6.25 percent.
Conservatives have also criticized the budget. Critics on the right, including tea party-aligned state lawmakers, say most of the changes aren’t cuts, they’re “tax shifting” that doesn’t result in the state spending less money.
Kasich’s plan does call for some measures that could help lower-income residents, including raising the income level at which parents can qualify for subsidies on child care. Other parts of the budget progressives might find more amenable include an increase on taxes associated with fracking.
Correction: due to a typo, an earlier version of this post said Ohio's sales tax rate will be 6.5 percent. This has been corrected to 6.25 percent.
It sounds a little like an episode of a zany sitcom: a tea partying conservative from Kentucky and a classic California liberal team up to clean up some roads.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced Jan. 29 that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would introduce a bill seeking to shore up the nation’s federal Highway Trust Fund. The announcement comes as fights over what to do about the nation’s looming infrastructure needs hit close to home.
The federal fund that helps pay for highway, bridge and transit projects could face insolvency this year if Congress doesn’t find new sources of money for infrastructure. In Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, local and state officials are currently wrangling over the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project. The bridge is more than 50 years old and carries 160,000 cars a day — four times more than it was designed to hold. Cincinnati’s 83-year-old Western Hills Viaduct will also need to be replaced in the next decade at a cost of $240 million. Studies by engineers have found that both bridges are structurally obsolete, though not immediately unsafe. Federal funds could go a long way toward making those projects reality.
"I am pleased to be working with Senator Boxer on a bipartisan solution to a tax and highway spending problem,” Paul said in a statement. “The interstate highway system is of vital importance to our economy. All across the country, bridges and roads are deficient and in need of replacement.”
Paul and Boxer’s bill proposes what is, in effect, a corporate tax cut: lowering the U.S. repatriation rate, or tax rate for foreign earnings, in order to incentivize U.S. companies to bring money back into the U.S. economy from foreign tax shelters. The proposed law would allow companies to voluntarily repatriate some of the estimated $2 trillion in off-shore corporate profits at a discounted tax rate of 6.5 percent. The program would require companies use that repatriated money to help build the economy. The money must be used for hiring or research and development, for instance, instead of executive raises. Taxes from the repatriated funds would go into the federal Highway Trust Fund for roads, bridges and other transit projects.
Paul did not mention regional projects like the Brent Spence Bridge specifically in statements about the proposal, though he has been active in the past in working to secure funding for replacing the bridge. It’s unclear if and when such projects would see a benefit from the bill, or exactly how much money it would raise should it pass into law.
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study conducted on a similar proposal in 2013 found that the move could boost America’s economy by more than $400 billion, according to a white paper released by the senators. President Barack Obama put a similar plan in his budget proposal, which he unveiled Feb. 2.
There are other proposals for shoring up infrastructure funds, both on the national level and here in the Tristate. Some in Congress have called for raising the gas tax, which currently helps pay for federal road and bridge maintenance. The rate hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s. But congressional Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have signaled they won’t support an increase.
On the state level, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have drafted their own plans for replacing the Brent Spence Bridge here. The two say the project can’t wait much longer — they cite an estimate by engineers saying that the project gets $7 million more expensive every month — and that the federal government won’t come to the rescue any time soon. Their proposal involves a public-private partnership that would necessitate tolls, however, something that has caused bipartisan consternation in Northern Kentucky. Many officials there are dead set against tolls, which they say will hurt workers and businesses. That’s tipped Northern Kentucky United, an anti-toll group, toward Paul’s idea.
“There are details yet to be worked out, but the similarities between what the President has suggested and the bipartisan proposal out of the Senate gives us good reason to be optimistic,” said Marisa McNee of Northern Kentucky United. “There is simply no reason to continue a rush to toll the Brent Spence Bridge when the White House and Congress appear to be moving towards an agreement on the Highway Trust Fund.”
Kasich, on the other hand, likened counting on funds from the federal government to waiting on the tooth fairy in a news conference last week on his proposal.
Paul and Boxer are a surprising team. Paul, a tea party favorite and potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, usually takes highly conservative, libertarian stances on policy and spending matters. Boxer, on the other hand, is one of the chamber’s most liberal members. In her 32-year career in Congress, first as a representative and then as a senator, she fought for tighter gun control, more environmental protection measures and pro-choice causes. Boxer, who is 74, announced last month that she will not seek re-election.
“I hope this proposal will jumpstart negotiations on addressing the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is already creating uncertainty that is bad for businesses, bad for workers and bad for the economy,” Boxer said in a statement about the bill. “I will also be working … on other proposals to pay for rebuilding our nation's aging transportation infrastructure."
Good morning all. Here’s what’s up in the news today:
City Manager Harry Black today announced that Thomas B. Corey will be the head of the city’s recently created Department of Economic Inclusion. The department is charged with increasing the availability of city contracts for women and minority owned businesses in the city. Corey is another former Baltimore official tapped by Black to lead a city department here. He was most recently The City of Baltimore Law Department’s Chief Solicitor. He will start Feb. 9.
• Average rents are going up in Greater Cincinnati, according to a survey commissioned by real estate company CBRE Cincinnati. Some of that is due to pricey new apartments in hot parts of town — the average rent on a newly-constructed apartment is over $1,000 a month in Cincinnati. But part of it is also swelling demand across all income brackets for apartments, according to the survey. You could blame pesky Millennials and our aversion to homeownership, but it seems like demand for rental units is going up across the board.
While we’re talking about rent, as we’ve reported more than a few times, Cincinnati’s affordable housing supply is stretched to the limit. There’s currently a 5,000-person waiting list to get a Section 8 voucher for one of the 11,000 units that accept them in the region. This Cincinnati Enquirer story questions whether that’s in part because Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority’s inspection standards have gotten too strict. The number of units that have failed such inspections has risen over the past couple years as CMHA started enforcing more stringent requirements on landlords. Some of the violations seem trivial — mismatched paint, hinges that need replaced — but others detailed in the story are serious, including windows that don’t open and mold problems. The story quotes one woman who actually had to move out of her home, and it was due to mold in the house. The Enquirer teased this story over the weekend with the provocative headline “Which County Agency is Leaving Residents Homeless?” But affordable housing advocates and neighborhood boosters have actually cheered the new standards. The story doesn’t mention a big piece of context: the abysmal conditions at some Section 8 rental units over the past few years. While reporting for this story published over the summer, CityBeat ran across truly shocking municipal code violations at Section 8 properties in Price Hill, for instance. These included sewage in rental unit basements, tenants without heat and water, doors that didn’t open and other major violations.
• Anti-toll groups in Northern Kentucky are fired up about statements Gov. John Kasich made last week regarding the Brent Spence Bridge. Kasich suggested that opponents of a plan to build a new bridge along one of America’s busiest shipping routes have their “heads in the sand.” That didn’t sit too well with the bipartisan group of lawmakers, businessmen and others who have come together to oppose the possibility of tolls for a new bridge. The group started a strongly-worded online petition that more than 2,000 supporters have signed so far. Kasich's plan, offered with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, would create tolls to help fund the $2.8 billion project, but would also give a 50 percent discount to daily commuters and work to keep the price as low as possible. Opponents say tolls are unacceptable and that the states should reach out to the federal government for money to fund a more modest bridge update.
"On Wednesday, Gov. Kasich stood at a press conference – in a building that once housed companies he personally recruited away from Kentucky – and insulted Northern Kentucky and our elected leaders," it says. "If he cannot control himself, he should stay out of Kentucky."
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed funding in his recent budget that would create a new community health program aimed at reducing the state’s infant mortality rate, which is among the worst in the nation. The plan would fund community organizations to connect women in low-income areas with prenatal medical care available through Medicaid. Cincinnati's infant mortality rate is especially bad; the city has the second-highest rate of infant death in the nation.
• Ohio has announced it will delay all six executions it had scheduled in 2015 as it searches for new sources for execution drugs. The announcement comes after the state halted its two-drug execution method last month due to questions about its efficacy. Last year, an execution carried out with the two-drug method took almost half an hour, and the inmate involved was heard gasping for breath.
• The United Steelworkers Union yesterday launched one of the largest national labor strikes in recent memory. USW, which is seeking higher wages and better safety measures, called for nearly 4,000 employees who work in several oil refineries across the country to abstain from work until new labor contracts are signed with several major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. Experts say it could drive up gas prices as refinery capacity is limited. It’s the largest walkout since 1980, when USW held a three-month strike. News reports indicate that workers in other refineries may also join in the walkout.
Good morning! I’ll be brief in my news update this morning, since I’m also keeping an eye on today’s White House task force on 21st century policing taking place at the University of Cincinnati today and tomorrow. You can live stream the event here. Anyway, here are a few bits of news floating around today:
The director of Cincinnati’s emergency medical service is asking for more money to respond to the region’s ongoing heroin crisis, saying that the crisis is getting worse every month in the city. One of the big costs the city’s emergency responders are encountering is Narcan, a drug used to treat heroin overdoses. The drug is costly, and the number of overdoses keeps climbing. EMS District Chief Cedric Robinson says seven overdoses a day happen in Cincinnati and that the number is climbing. The city’s expenditures on Narcan have nearly tripled in the past year. In 2013, the city spent about $21,000 on the drug. In 2014, that jumped to $60,000.
• Will some parts of the Greater Cincinnati area fail new, more stringent federal air quality standards? It seems like a possibility. The region barely passed current air quality tests last year, and several counties, including Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont and Campbell Counties, failed in 2013. Standards from the Environmental Protection Agency could get tougher by next fall, meaning that the region could be subject to new oversight from the agency. Hamilton County exceeded guidelines for ozone, one of the pollutants measured by the EPA, on only four days last year under the old standards. Under proposed new standards, it would have gone over the limit by more than 20. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club are cheering the new rules — they’ll be better for residents’ health, saving millions in healthcare costs. But businesses say the costs of compliance will be high. They’re lobbying against the new standards, of course.
• Now that he’s officially announced he’s running for U.S. Senate, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has started staffing up, tapping former Battleground Texas Democratic strategist Ramsey Reid as his campaign manager. Before his stint working to try and turn deeply Republican Texas purple, Reid was also a big part of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He’s also working with two political strategy firms: a firm led by Obama campaign veterans called 270 Strategies; and Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, which helped him win his council seat.
While Sittenfeld gears up for what may be a tough Democratic primary, his potential Republican opponent incumbent Sen. Rob Portman is also powering up his campaign. Portman has chosen high-profile Republican strategist Corry Bliss to manage his campaign. Bliss was last called in to turn around Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts’ last Senate campaign after he came under a strong primary challenge that threatened to unseat him.
• Gov. John Kasich has called for eliminating Ohio’s income tax for small businesses, a move that looks likely to bum out conservatives and progressives alike. The staunch conservatives in Ohio’s state House love the idea of cutting taxes, of course, but aren’t down with Kasich’s plan to, you know, actually pay for those tax cuts by increasing taxes on cigarettes and oil. They say that’s not a tax cut and that they want the state spending less money in general, even after the state’s budget has been slashed to the bone over the last few years. Progressives, on the other hand, say past income tax cuts have been deeply regressive. A 2013 cut paid for by boosting the state’s sales tax a quarter percent shifted the tax burden toward Ohio’s lowest earners, progressives say, and Kasich’s new proposal would further shift that burden. Under Kasich’s plan, almost all businesses run as sole proprietorships, or businesses owned by a single person who reports business profits as personal income, would not need to file state income tax. A business would be exempt from the income tax so long as its sales are under $2 million.
• Finally, if Bill Gates told you to be afraid of computers, would you listen? Gates revealed that he’s very worried about the potential threat artificial intelligence, or AI, could pose to humanity in coming decades. Gates revealed his concerns in response to a question he received during a Reddit "Ask me Anything" session. During his AMA, Gates also expressed optimism about the near future when it comes to computing. He envisions robots able to pick produce and do other mundane tasks flawlessly. It’s when the robots get smarter, he says, that we have to worry. His concern echoes that of other technology magnates like Tesla founder Elon Musk, who called AI “summoning the demon” at a symposium in October. I feel like I’m summoning the demon every time I open Microsoft Word, which is a nightmarishly vexing program, but that’s a whole other subject Gates should be addressing.
If you’re a spectator of Democratic Party politics right about now, you’ve probably watched the 2016 presidential election sweepstakes unfolding with interest. Dems probably won’t get close to the huge stable of potential nominees the Republican Party is currently wrangling with, and Hillary Clinton seems to have the nomination locked up, so much so that she's not even started her campaign yet. But there are other viable candidates. Vice President Joe Biden is also, uh, bidin’ his time (sorry). And then there’s progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren. She says she’s not running, but she’s got a vocal fan base who have continued to push her name into the conversation in a big way.
One question you may have asked yourself at this point: If Warren, why not Sen. Sherrod Brown? Or maybe, if you’re like some of the prominent progressive political operatives in this Washington Post story, that possibility hasn’t entered your mind. But as that story asks, why not?
Ohio’s senior senator has the deep progressive bonafides of Warren plus a heap more experience, an easy-going way about him and a high profile in the nation’s highest deliberative body. Plus, if we haven’t already said this (we have), Ohio’s so hot right now. Our other senator, Rob Portman, had been considered a potential candidate for the Republican nomination before he dropped out in December. Fellow GOPer Gov. John Kasich’s name has been floated a lot as well, though he’s been coy about his intentions. And there’s a good possibility all three political conventions will be converging on our vital swing state in 2016. A presidential candidate from Ohio could wrap the state up for either party.
So why not Brown? Is it the perception that Democrats are ready to elect the first female president after Barack Obama's history-making election? Is it Brown’s own reluctance, or outright refusal, actually, to play along? Is it the fact that he sounds like the Dark Knight when he talks? (The Post says Tom Waits. I consider either an asset.) Brown says he's focused on doing the job he has now, but they all say that, right?
“I don’t think you can do your job well in the Senate if you’re looking over your shoulder wanting to be president,” Brown tells the Post. Earlier in the article, he says, “I know you don’t believe this, but I don’t really think about it all that much.”
Morning all. Here’s what’s happening around town today.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear would like to see the looming effort to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, currently estimated to cost $2.6 billion, trimmed by $300 million, they said yesterday in a news conference. That will be a tall order, Kentucky transportation officials say, but something they’ll work on. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock says it’s hard to find immediate and obvious reductions to the project.
Part of the problem with cost-trimming is that the current bridge accommodates 160,000 cars a day, much more traffic than it was originally intended to carry. The solution engineers have in mind would mean building a bigger, wider bridge next to the Brent Spence. It would also mean highway-widening and interchange updates along an eight-mile stretch on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the bridge. Those highway changes account for 60 percent of the project’s costs. Officials say they will look at tightening the scope of the project and also finding ways to do what needs to be done for less money.
One lynchpin of the governors’ plan is that it will be partially funded by tolling, a controversial solution. Vocal opponents of tolls in Northern Kentucky, including many elected officials, have vowed to fight against tolling on the bridge, saying it will put a burden on businesses and workers. They say the project is unnecessarily large and that both states should approach the federal government in an attempt to get funding for a smaller, more modest project to replace the bridge.
• A local developer's vision for the area around Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine has expanded. Model Group, which has already bought up a number of buildings in the area with plans to renovate them into office and commercial space, is making moves to purchase several more neighboring buildings on Race and West Elder streets. Model recently bought 101 W. Elder, 1812 Race St. and is in the final stages of purchasing 1818 Race St., all apartment buildings with first-floor retail space. It is also looking to purchase 1808 and 1810 Race St. soon. It is unclear if these buildings are currently occupied or represent affordable housing in the neighborhood. The expansion brings the developer’s first phase of development from $14 million to $19 million. The expansion creates a big increase in residential space — 35 units instead of 14 in the original first phase of the project, as well as 50,000 square feet of retail space instead of 40,000.
• An Ohio congressman and former pro-life advocate says he has changed his mind about abortion. Rep. Tim Ryan was one of just a few Democrats in the House who had opposed abortion, in part due to his Catholic faith. Over his 14-year career, Ryan has been an outspoken opponent of abortion but says his views have changed over time, writing in an op-ed in the Akron Beacon Journal: “I have come to believe that we must trust women and families — not politicians — to make the best decision for their lives." Another factor in his change of heart may be that he’s eyeing Republican Rob Portman’s Senate seat in 2016.
• As we talked about a few days ago, it seems increasingly likely that Ohio voters will get to weigh in on a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in November. But if you ask Attorney General Mike DeWine, that’s just dumb. DeWine called legalization “a stupid idea.” DeWine said something esoteric about the law being a teacher before basically telling folks at a Rotary Club meeting in Newark Tuesday that legalizing weed will have everyone and their mom smoking the stuff all the time because the law says they should, creating chaos in the streets, stunning increases in demand for Bonnaroo tickets and long lines for snack products (OK, he didn’t go that far, but you could tell he was thinking it).
Beyond that, DeWine did have some pretty fair points to make about a leading proposal by ResponsibleOhio, which has presented one of the ballot initiatives. That initiative would allow anyone over 21 who passes a background check to buy weed, but would limit the number of growers in Ohio to 10 and create a seven-member Marijuana Control Commission to oversee production and sale of the crop. Who chooses growers and the commission is unclear. Sound like a monopoly? Yeah. DeWine thinks so too, and actually made a pretty cogent point about that.
"Even if you think selling marijuana is a great idea, I don't know why anyone would think just giving a few people who are going to put the money up to pass it on the ballot is a good idea to let them have that monopoly," DeWine said.
So can we just legalize weed and have it all operate like every other large monopolistic business in the country instead of a state-anointed monopolistic business, like, say, our casinos? Stay tuned…
• As a bike commuter and die-hard pedestrian, this UrbanCincy opinion piece on how car-centric and bike/pedestrian/eyeball/everything-else unfriendly many Cincinnati-area Kroger stores are really resonates. With either updates, new stores needed or on the slate in Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Avondale and Corryville, it’s a good time to think about how our grocery stores should operate and who they’re designed to serve. This is an especially salient point in light of the problems many Cincinnatians have living in food deserts. UrbanCincy editor Randy Simes makes a great point in the piece about how other cities, namely Lexington, have gotten more urban-friendly, modern designs that serve motorists, cyclists and pedestrians equally well. Why not here?
• Finally, as we think about billion-dollar bridges and oceans of grocery store parking lots, I leave you with this: the Washington Post’s WonkBlog a couple days ago had a really interesting piece on the roots of America’s "love affair" with the automobile. Spoiler alert: It’s all been a big marketing campaign, the author says. Worth a read for the history of America’s car culture, highway system and shout out to Cincinnati’s pre-I-75 West End.
Hello Cincy. There’s a lot happening today, so let’s get it going.
Later today, Mayor John Cranley and the Economic Inclusion Advisory Council he appointed last year will present the results of a study on ways to make the city more inclusive for businesses owned by minorities and women. The EIAC has been tasked with finding ways to get more minority-owned businesses included in city contracts, and the board came up with 37 suggestions, including ordinances that make diversity a priority in the city when it comes to contracts it awards. Cincinnati, which awards a very small number of contracts to minority and women-owned businesses, has already tried twice to find ways to boost that number, but Cranley is confident the EIAC’s recommendations will make the city a “mecca” for minority-owned businesses.
• Here’s some (qualified) good news for Greater Cincinnati: Unemployment in the region has fallen to 4.1 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2001. Though the region lost 2,000 jobs in December, numbers are up overall from this time last year, as we’ve added more than 21,000 jobs in the last 12 months. The Greater Cincinnati area’s unemployment rate at that time was 6.1 percent. Cincinnati’s fairing better than Ohio and the nation on the jobs front. Ohio’s unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, and the country’s as a whole is 5.4 percent. All those numbers have been trending downward. But there’s a caveat to all that good news: Wages have remained stagnant. More folks may have jobs, but folks aren’t necessarily making more or enough money at those jobs.
• Are we getting closer to a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge? Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear are expected to announce a plan for the bridge at a news conference in Covington later today. Here’s what they’re expected to put on the table: a 50/50 split on costs between the two states, tolls that cost as close to $1 as possible with a discount for frequent commuters and ideas to make the $2.6 billion project more affordable. Kentucky owns the bridge and gets final say in the plans. A bill seeking a public-private partnership for the replacement project will more than likely be introduced in the Kentucky state legislature this session, though what happens after that is unclear. Kasich and Beshear have been working together on rehabbing the bridge, a vital link in one of the nation’s busiest shipping routes, since 2011. But Beshear will leave office after this year due to term limits. Meanwhile, Northern Kentucky officials and lobbying groups are pushing against tolls on the bridge, fighting it out with other, pro-toll business groups.
• The proposed Wasson Way bike trail through the city’s east side could stretch all the way into Avondale, supporters of the project say. The trail, which has been one of Mayor Cranley’s top priorities, is slated to go from Bass Island Park near Mariemont into Cincinnati along an unused rail line mostly owned by Norfolk Southern. Original plans had the trail stopping at Xavier, but a new 1-mile extension would carry cyclists all the way into uptown, near big employers like the city’s hospitals and University of Cincinnati. There is still a long road ahead for the trail, including securing right of way on land the trail passes through and an argument about whether to leave room for a future light rail line. Costs for the project range from $7 million to $32 million depending on that and other considerations.
• A group angry over Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams’ letter decrying “race-baiting black leaders” spoke at a Norwood City Council meeting yesterday evening asking for an apology. At least 14 people spoke out against the mayor’s letter, which he posted on social media last month in solidarity with the city’s police department. Among those who packed council chambers were Norwood residents, members of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, a group we talk about more in this story, and activist and Greater Cincinnati National Action Network President Bishop Bobby Hilton.
"It was stabbed right in the heart ,” Hilton said at the meeting, referring to the letter. “I humbly ask if you would please retract that statement and we'll stand with you in supporting your law enforcement."
• A coalition of teachers, parents and progressive organizations in Ohio has banded together to ask the state board of education not to renew the charters of 11 charter schools in the state run by Concept Schools, Inc., including the troubled Horizon Academy in Dayton. That school is being investigated after former teachers there reported attendance inflation, sexual harassment, racism and other issues last year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also investigating several schools in Ohio run by the Chicago-based Concept after reports of misuse of federal money and other violations. Concept denies any wrong doing.
• Hey, this is a fun tidbit. The Koch brothers, those modern American captains of industry who make billions of dollars a year, mostly in the energy sector, are planning on spending big cash in the 2016 election. That in and of itself isn’t news — the Kochs have been dumping obscene amounts of cash into local, state and federal elections for years, aided recently by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But just how obscene the amount of cash could be in 2016 is noteworthy. The brothers’ political organization has set a goal of spending more than $889 million in the next presidential election cycle. That’s a lot. A whole lot. To illustrate how much, that amount is more than the $657 million the Republican National Committee and congressional campaign committees spent in 2012. Democrats spent even more, but not as much as the Kochs are planning to spend in 2016. Dumping that much cash into the election would more or less match the sky-high projected expenditures by Democrats and Republicans for the next presidential election. So basically, at least when it comes to political spending, we have a third party we didn’t vote for made up entirely of the Koch brothers and their rich donor cronies. Awesome.