An annual human trafficking report released by Attorney General Mike DeWine gave Ohio a C. The grade, which comes from Shared Hope International, was a step up from D's in the previous two years. But DeWine says it’s not enough, and further action will be taken. Ohio has made some strides on the human trafficking issue, including passage of a new “Safe Harbor” law for sex-trafficking victims, new details for minor trafficking victims and the training of 24,000 law-enforcement officers to better detect and help trafficking victims.
Gov. John Kasich is giving $5 million to mental health services to help curb and prevent violence. The news comes in the wake of school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 and a California high school yesterday. Mental health services are important, but so is gun control, as CityBeat pointed out here. Vice President Joe Biden is currently heading an investigation to make suggestions on gun control to President Barack Obama.
The remaining businesses in Tower Place Mall were told to get out. Cassidy Turley, the court-appointed receiver of the mall, apparently filed eviction notices telling businesses to leave by March. The mall has been struggling for some time now, and the city of Cincinnati is currently in the process of trying to buy it. City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city had no part in the evictions.
The city of Mason is apparently becoming a technology corridor. Since 2011, the city has brought in $110 million in investments and created 1,400 jobs. The new jobs are related to technology, robotics, automation, innovation and health care.
Warren and Butler counties are apparently seeing a surge in sales tax revenue. The budgetary boost is being seen by some as a sign of further economic expansion.
Surrounded by dogs, Gov. Kasich signed legislation effectively banning puppy mills. Previously, animal advocates claimed lax rules and regulations had made Ohio a breeding ground for abusive practices. The lack of oversight also helped enable Ohio’s dog auctions, which CityBeat covered here. The new law will go into effect within 30 days.
An Ohio school is apparently arming janitors. Previously, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters made a suggestion to arm school staff, but research shows it doesn’t help deter or stop acts of violence.
Natural gas is being slightly deregulated in Ohio. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is allowing two companies — Columbia Gas of Ohio and Dominion East Ohio Gas — to eliminate regulated pricing for businesses, with some conditions. Supporters say the move will create more competition and lower prices, but the deregulation gives a substantial advantage to two big energy companies.
Congress is apparently less popular than head lice, but it’s more popular than Lindsay Lohan. Damn. Does that mean people prefer head lice to Lindsay Lohan? Even Nickelback and Ghengis Khan beat Congress. Poor Lindsay.
Science has now found that animal grunts can act similarly to Morse code. Is this yet another warning of the impending animal takeover?
By now, most of you have heard there was another horrible mass shooting, this time in Newtown, Conn., that resulted in the death of 20 children and six adults. While everyone is hoping this is the last time the nation has to deal with an event of unspeakable horror, it is only a possibility if we agree to do something about it. That means remembering the heroes who risked their lives and, in some cases, died that day. That means not letting the media and public drop the issue, as has been the case in the past. That means looking at more than just gun control, including mental health services. The Washington Post analyzed what “meaningful” action on gun control would look like, and the newspaper also disproved the idea Switzerland and Israel are “gun-toting utopias.” President Barack Obama also spoke on the issue at a vigil Sunday, calling for the nation to do more to protect people, particularly children, from violence. The full speech can be watched here.
City Council approved its 2013 budget plan Friday. The budget relies on the privatization of city parking assets to help plug a $34 million deficit and avoid 344 layoffs. The budget also nixed the elimination of a tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities, and it continued funding the police department’s mounted unit. As a separate issue, City Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, reversing a move from conservatives in 2011. CityBeat wrote about budgets at all levels of government and how they affect jobs here.
Michelle Dillingham, who was an aide to former city councilman David Crowley, will seek Democratic support in a run for City Council. Dillingham promises to tackle “industry issues of mutual interest" to business and labor and “transportation funding, family-supporting wages and workforce development.”
At a recent public hearing, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed a “very easy” plan for the city budget. Only problem: His plan doesn’t work. In an email, Cranley said he stands by his ideas, but he added he was working with limited information and his statements were part of a two-minute speech, which “requires brevity.” He also claimed there are cost-cutting measures that can be sought out without privatizing the city’s parking assets and gave modified versions of his ideas regarding casino and parking meter revenue.
Judge Robert Lyons, the Butler County judge who sealed the Miami rape flyer case, is standing by his decision.
The Greater Cincinnati area is near the top for private-sector growth.
Jedson Engineering is moving from Clermont County to downtown Cincinnati, thanks in part to an incentive package from City Council that includes a 45 percent tax credit based on employees earnings taxes over the next five years and a $300,000 grant for capital improvements. The company was a Business Courier Fast 55 finalist in 2008 and 2009 due to its high revenue growth.
Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan is getting some support from Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, but others are weary. They fear the plan, which leverages the turnpike through bonds for state infrastructure projects, will move turnpike revenues out of northern Ohio. But Kasich vows to keep more than 90 percent of projects in northern Ohio.
Gas prices are still falling in Ohio.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is making some concessions in fiscal talks. In his latest budget, he proposed raising taxes on those who make more than $1 million a year.
One beagle can diagnose diseases by sniffing stool samples.
Ohio State Board of Education President Debe Terhar posted an image of Adolf Hitler on Facebook that said, “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.” But the Cincinnati Republican, who was referencing President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals, now insists she was not comparing Obama to Hitler. It’s pretty obvious she was, though.
Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December, down from 6.9 percent in November. The drop is largely attributed to a decrease in the civilian labor force, which could imply less people are looking for work or seasonal changes are having an impact. Whatever the case, the amount of people who are employed and unemployed both dropped. Hamilton County’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in December, down from 6.4 percent in November, but that drop was also attributed to a declining labor force or seasonal factors. Greater Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was unchanged from 6.4 percent, despite 2,600 less people working. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted rate was 6.6 percent in December, up from 6.5 percent in November, and the U.S. rate was 7.6 percent, up from 7.4 percent.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, suggested the Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act. The plan requires debt ceiling increases to be matched by an equal amount of spending cuts. Increasing the debt ceiling is essentially Congress agreeing to pay its bills. During the budget process and while passing other legislation, Congress agrees to a certain amount of spending. Increasing the debt ceiling just makes it possible for the president to pay those bills, even if it means surpassing a set debt level. If the debt ceiling isn't raised by May 18, the United States will default on its debts, plunging the country into depression. But the threat of destroying the U.S. economy has not stopped Republicans from using the debt ceiling as a negotiation tool to get the spending cuts they so badly want.
Public employees are avoiding changes to Ohio’s public pension system by retiring before the changes kick in. The changes make it so any teacher who retires before July 1 will get a 2 percent cost of living increase to their pensions in 2015. Anyone who retires after July 1 will not get the increase until 2018. After that, retirees will get a pension increase every five years. Experts are also expecting a rush of retirees in 2015, when age and years-of-service requirements for full benefits are set to gradually rise.
A new report found Ohio’s graduation rate is still improving. The U.S. Department of Education report found the state’s graduation rate was 81.4 percent in the 2009-10 school year, higher than the nation’s rate of 78.2 percent, and an increase from 78.7 percent rate in the 2006-2007 school year.
A study found a link between hourly workers at Hamilton County’s Fernald Feed Materials Production Center and intestinal cancer.
As Ohio cuts back its solar program, Canada is shutting down the rest of its coal-fired power plants by the end of 2013.
The Cincinnati Reds may get to host the 2015 All-Stars Game.
Scientists are rushing to build robots that save lives in disaster zones. Will John Connor please stand up?
Occupy Wall Street may have been onto something. A new report from left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found Ohio’s income gap — the income difference between the rich and poor — is wide and growing.
Since the 1970s, the poorest 20 percent saw no change in real
income, the middle 20 percent gained 21.1 percent, the top 20 percent
gained 50.6 percent and the top 5 percent gained 85.1 percent.
In terms of real dollars, low-income and middle-income Ohioans have actually seen their income drop since the 1990s. The drop caused a “lost decade” for Ohio’s lower and middle classes, according to the report. The bottom 20 percent saw a 6.9 percent drop in real income from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, while the middle 20 percent saw a 2.9 percent drop. Real incomes for the top 20 percent and top 5 percent remained the same.
The shifts have caused a startling difference in real income, which the report calculated by looking at real dollars after federal taxes and including the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies and food stamps. The poorest 20 percent make on average about $20,500, and the middle 20 percent make on average about $58,100. Meanwhile, the top 5 percent make about $221,800 — 10.8 times as much as the bottom 20 percent and 3.8 times as much as the middle 20 percent.
Real dollars are a measurement used to gauge the value of money and income after inflation. If a family sees its income in real dollars drop, it means income increases, if they exist, are not keeping up with inflation.
The widening income gap is part of a nationwide trend. In comparison to other states, Ohio mostly did better than the national average. Ohio was not included in any of the six top 10 ranks for inequality, which ranked states for rises in inequality during different time periods. During the late 2000s, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Georgia and New York had the greatest gaps between the wealthiest and poorest. In the same time period, New Mexico, California, Georgia, Mississippi and Arizona had the biggest gaps between the wealthiest and middle.
Part of the cause for the widening gap is the recent recession, but the CBPP report found that the wealthiest have seen their incomes rise again in the recession’s aftermath, while middle and lower incomes have not. The report also blamed government policies — deregulation, trade liberalization, the weakening safety net, the lack of effective laws regarding collective bargaining and the declining real value of the minimum wage — and the expansion of investment incomes, which the CBPP says “primarily accrue to those at the top of the income structure.”
The report finished with some suggestions for states: raise minimum wage and index it for inflation, improve unemployment insurance systems, make state tax systems more progressive and strengthen safety nets.
Policy Matters Ohio, which pointed to the findings in a statement, says the report warrants action. “Poor and middle-income families are seeing their income fall in real dollars and relative to higher earners,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio, in the statement. “When households already subsisting on less than $23,000 a year see their incomes drop, that means hunger, instability, poor school performance and worse. Ohio needs to do more to improve the lives of families in this state.”
Two Ohio senators, including Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, are pushing a bill that will require the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to grant driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants. The senators claim state BMV offices are inconsistently applying President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of prosecution, but the Ohio Department of Public Safety says the issue is still under review. CityBeat originally broke the story after hearing of Ever Portillo’s experiences at a Columbus BMV office here, and a follow-up story covered the internal conflict at the BMV over the issue here.
Ohio officials have said the state has only put $1 million toward JobsOhio, but records recently acquired by The Columbus Dispatch show $5.3 million in funding has been directed to the program
so far, and the public investment could be as high as $9 million. State
officials said the funding is necessary because constitutional
challenges, which the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up,
have held up the program’s original source of funding — state liquor
profits. JobsOhio is a nonprofit company established with the support of
Gov. John Kasich that’s meant to attract investment and bring jobs to
the state. Kasich says he wants to replace the Ohio Department of Development with the nonprofit company in the future.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote yesterday, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote tomorrow. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered, would 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. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration. Critics are worried the city will give up too much control of its parking assets as part of the deal, and concerns about the city’s long-term deficits remain. The alternatives — plans B, C and S — would fix structural deficit problems, while the budget only helps balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years.
The company that will operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the parking deal is approved by City Council had problems in the past, according to a tip received by multiple news outlets from Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing. One of the issues is a 2007 audit, which found ACS mismanaged parking meters in Washington, D.C. Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit was based on “faulty information,” and a lot of the problems found were because the auditor improperly read parking meter screen displays.
An approved commitment by the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (HCTID) may ensure a rail service is ready for Cincinnati in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing for local and state governments to break down any barriers for Oasis Rail Transit, which will carry passengers from Downtown to Milford.
The Ohio Board of Education will decide between two candidates for state superintendent next week: acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers or Dick Ross, Gov. John Kasich’s top education adviser.
After years of development and anticipation, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino opened yesterday. The casino comes with the promise of jobs and economic development, but it also poses the risk of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide. State and local legislators are also looking forward to extra government revenue from the casino, even though casino revenue around the state has fallen short of projections. For Over-the-Rhine residents, the grand opening, which culminated in a fireworks display, was sort of like being in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Livability.com named Cincinnati the No. 10 spring break destination because of the Cincinnati Zoo, Botanical Garden, IKEA, Cincinnati Art Museum, the 21c Museum Hotel, Newport Aquarium and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, among other places and family-friendly activities.
Science doesn’t want pregnant women to be capable of anything.
Here are two pictures of Venus from Saturn’s view.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop the sale of 748 housing units to a New York company — potentially preventing a repeat of a similar sale back to 2007 that led to dropping property values in the area.
In a press release Tuesday, Qualls argued that locals should be given the opportunity to purchase the project-based Section 8 housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Currently, HUD is bypassing local communities with plans to sell the housing to a corporation controlled by the Puretz family of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Cincinnati’s residents are still recovering from the massive disinvestment that was allowed to occur with an eerily similar situation in 2010,” Qualls said in the release, referring to a similar sale that culminated in a huge drop in property values between 2007 and 2010.
In 2007, HUD sold 618 subsidized housing units to NY Group
OH 1 LLC, a company with no previous housing experience in Cincinnati,
according to Qualls’ release. As the 2008 financial crisis and Great
Recession pulled down the global economy, property values dropped all
around the nation, but things went particularly south in NY Group’s
Cincinnati buildings. The owner eventually defaulted on the housing
units, and Fannie Mae foreclosed in 2010.
Property values went from $21.5 million to $7 million between 2007 and 2010, when the units were sold in a sheriff’s sale. In that time period, the buildings blighted, with residents complaining about deteriorating structures, broken lighting, bed bugs, cockroaches and mold. In one case, an apartment’s restroom ceiling reportedly collapsed.
Qualls is focused on preventing more blighted buildings: “Preservation of the housing in good condition is vital to the improvement of our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods cannot afford to have more blight brought on by an absentee owner. Because these properties are supported by government funding, it is vitally important that HUD get public input from the City of Cincinnati and Avondale, Walnut Hills and Millvale residents and stakeholders about this proposed new transfer of HUD funded properties before making any further decisions.”
Qualls has invited the local HUD field office director to the Feb. 26 Livable Communities Committee meeting to discuss the sale. She has also written to other HUD officials, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Steve Chabot to prevent the sale.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a
plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote on March 6.
Council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young voted for the plan, and council members Chris Seelbach, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against it. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was absent, and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan abstained, although she said she could vote yes if she sees more details about how the city will curb its long-term budget problems.
The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), would 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 would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Before the vote, several City Council members said the parking plan would not solve Cincinnati’s structural deficit problems, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan would 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. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to
have further negative ramifications to deal with.”
Still, Dohoney admitted the plan would not solve all the city’s budget woes — just like he has repeatedly said in the past. Even with the parking plan, the city projects a $10 million deficit in 2014, $15.5 million deficit in 2015 and $20 million deficit in 2016.
The council members insisted there are alternatives to the parking plan and Dohoney’s Plan B, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes.
On March 1, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would not lease the city’s parking assets to balance the budget and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
On the same day as the hearings, Winburn, the sole Republican on City Council, proposed Plan C, which would reduce city employees’ salaries across the board — with exemptions for police, ﬁre, health, garbage, recreation, parks and road paving — and use casino and parking revenue to clear the deficit.
At the City Council hearings, Quinlivan listed a few other
possibilities, including sharing public safety services with other
local communities. She also advised the city to put together a long-term deficit reduction plan. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road any more,” she said.
Thomas suggested putting an earnings tax hike of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent on the ballot. He said, “It would solve this (deficit) problem once and for all.”
Some council members also raised concerns about the release of bond documents, which will further detail the framework of the parking agreement. Dohoney and Laura Brunner, president of the Port Authority, said the bond documents have not been crafted because a lease agreement has to be approved by City Council first, but the documents will be made public once they are put together.
Before the final committee vote, Smitherman successfully
motioned to separate part of the parking plan from the budget, which opens the plan to referendum. The motion was in response to City Solicitor
John Curp, who said appropriation ordinances, or ordinances that are essentially budgets, aren’t subject to
referendum, according to state law.
Food deserts are a big problem for many of Hamilton County’s impoverished families, but ongoing research suggests officials may be overlooking mobility when attempting to pinpoint neighborhoods that lack access to healthy foods.
University of Cincinnati professor Michael Widener is heading research that looks into how mobility can alter perceptions about food deserts. So far, his findings have suggested that some people may have access to healthy foods throughout their daily commute despite being classified as living in a food desert.
Widener explains the research is necessary to make identifying food deserts more accurate. “In previous work and when I was doing my dissertation, I was noticing how a lot of food desert research failed to take into account the dynamics of everyday urban life,” he says. The observation led Widener to incorporate those dynamics, particularly people’s movements throughout the day, to see how they impact people’s access to food.
Still, Widener cautions that his findings don’t dismiss the problems caused by food deserts: “Of course, there are a lot of assumptions being made, like are (these commuters) totally drained after work? The biggest (assumption) is of course that (someone has) a car.”
Widener says his findings could impact how public officials approach food desert policies. He points to potential stopgap measures, such as better access to public transportation, that could alleviate the pains of living in a food desert while a more permanent solution is put in place. Widener argues these policies could make financial sense: Considering how many potential costs a food desert can bring on a community, it might be cheaper for a city to build a bus route and encourage better ways to load groceries into buses. Widener knows these aren’t perfect solutions, but he thinks they could provide some aid in a bogged-down political climate that often results in sluggish policy changes.
There is a caveat: Widener acknowledges research has so far been inconsistent as to whether access to healthier food actually leads to healthier results. Eventually, he wants to research what actually causes healthier results and whether broader economic factors, such as poverty, play a more important role. That could give officials a clearer picture on which policies work and which don’t.
The first part of Widener’s research came out in a January paper that looked at auto commuters’ access to food, and the next part will look at public transportation’s impact. The research project is using local transportation data from The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
Food deserts are neighborhoods that lack access to fresh, healthy foods. In Hamilton County, many of the identified food deserts are in neighborhoods on the city’s west side, including Price Hill and Queensgate. Cincinnati’s food deserts are just one problem being addressed by Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan in more than 20 years (“Core Future,” issue of Sept. 5).
Part of the parking plan proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on Feb. 19 (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20) would also build a modern grocery store with access to fresh fruits and vegetables in Downtown.