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?
Despite strong backing from Republican Gov. John Kasich, the Medicaid expansion didn’t make it into the final version of the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday.
Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, calls the expansion’s failure a disappointment, but he says he remains optimistic the expansion will be taken up in future legislation.
Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the federal government is asking states to expand their Medicaid programs to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $32,499 for a family of four.
States are given a powerful financial incentive for doing so: For the
first three years, the expansion is entirely paid for by the federal
government. Afterward, the federal commitment is dropped to 90
percent, where it will indefinitely remain.
The federal government on average pays about 57 percent of Medicaid costs, while states pay for the rest. So the 90-percent match for the expansion is a uniquely lucrative deal.
But Republican legislators say they’re skeptical the federal government can afford such a large commitment to Medicaid, often calling the size of the expansion unprecedented.
Owens claims there is a precedent for the Medicaid expansion: Medicaid. He says the federal government has historically upheld its commitment to Medicaid, which insures 2.2 million Ohioans. There’s no sign that will stop any time soon, according to Owens.
To support his claim, Owens cites scoring from the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan organization that
scores federal policy proposals to gauge their fiscal and economic
impact. In July 2012, the CBO found repealing Obamacare, which includes the
Medicaid expansion, would actually increase the federal deficit by $109 billion
over 10 years, which means the health reform law is an overall fiscal gain for the federal government.
At the same time, analysts have found the Medicaid expansion would be fiscally beneficial for Ohio. Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade.
Instead of being concerned about fiscal problems, Owens concludes opponents of the Medicaid expansion simply dislike the president, Obamacare and Medicaid.
Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, pushes back at that notion. He points out the state budget will increase funding for Medicaid by $1 billion, allowing 231,000 more Ohioans to enter the system.
“When people say that we’re not doing anything for Medicaid, obviously that’s not true,” he says. “Certainly, we could have gone down the road of not funding that particular provision.”
The increased funding is going to people who are already eligible for Medicaid but, for whatever reason, aren’t currently enrolled. The federal government expects the new enrollees to sign up as a result of Obamacare raising awareness and education about health coverage.
In other words, the federal government already expects Ohio to pay for these Medicaid enrollees. Failing to do so would have likely violated the state’s Medicaid agreement with the federal government and, as Dittoe acknowledges when asked, resulted in penalties.
Although the Medicaid expansion is out of the state budget, there is a bill currently sitting in the House that would take up the expansion. Dittoe says that bill will likely be looked at in the early fall.
For legislators, that might be politically prudent: A poll released June 14 by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found 63 percent of Ohioans support the Medicaid expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent. The University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research conducted the poll for the Health Foundation between May 19 and June 2.
The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it into law this weekend.
Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
• Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy
• State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding
• State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion
One of Cincinnati’s largest neighborhoods and business districts is adamantly against a proposed plan to lease the city’s parking systems.
A Dec. 7 letter to the mayor from Clifton Town Meeting President Peter Schneider calls the plan “baffling,” “short sighted” and “counter-intuitive.”
The city administration wants to lease all Cincinnati parking meters, garages and surface lots for 30 years in exchange for an upfront payment of at least $40 million and a share of the profits.
The city wants to use $21 million of the upfront payment to help close a $34 million hole in the upcoming budget.
Schneider writes that the proposal is bad for business, making it harder for customers to find cheap or free parking near retail areas like Clifton’s Ludlow Avenue corridor.
He also worried that a private operator would ratchet up the price for parking, making the facilities “unidirectional ATM’s (sic) benefiting a third party that provides minimal or no value to the citizens.”
Schneider also complains that Cincinnatians have not been given details of the deal or the opportunity to weigh in on it.
“It is unconscionable that the City administration would allow a similar plan (to the citizen-defeated red-light cameras) affecting parking meters and services be railroaded through City Hall without the appropriate sunshine and input of the populace,” he wrote.
He also compares the proposal to Hamilton County’s mishandling of the stadium deals, claiming that a similar long-term lease is unwise.
Schneider ends the letter by admitting that there are some aspects of outsourcing that could be beneficial, such as private management of surface lots or garages or maintenance, but the idea of privatizing everything goes too far.
Ohio Senate Republicans unveiled a budget plan yesterday that would keep social issues at the forefront and refocus tax reforms on small businesses instead of all Ohioans.
The budget plan would potentially allow Ohio's health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion.
The plan would also cut income taxes by 50 percent for businesses owners while undoing a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut for all Ohioans.
Republicans say the tax cuts will spur the state's economy, but Democrats were quick to argue the tax cuts will exclude a majority of Ohioans, particularly low- and middle-income earners.
The small business tax cut was originally proposed by Gov. John Kasich alongside a 20-percent across-the-board tax cut for all Ohioans, but the Ohio House undid both suggestions in its own budget plan in favor of a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
Meanwhile, the conservative push on social issues echoes priorities established in the Ohio House budget bill, which was passed on April 18 ("The Chastity Bunch," issue of April 24).
But the Ohio Senate plan comes with a new addition: It would give the director of the Ohio Department of Health the power to close ambulatory surgical centers without cause, which could be "a thinly veiled tool to close abortion clinics and effectively outlaw abortion across the state," according to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
The other Ohio Senate measures are drawn from the Ohio House budget bill, including a rework of family services funding that prioritizes other programs over Planned Parenthood, leading to less funds for the controversial women's health program.
The change has been trumpeted by Republicans who claim it will allow more programs to get funding. But the cuts have been criticized by Planned Parenthood advocates, who say other programs already compete for family planning services funding; those programs are just dismissed as inferior under the current competitive distribution process.
The Ohio Senate budget plan would also shift a separate set of funds to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which essentially act as the anti-abortion alternative to family planning institutions like Planned Parenthood.Supporters of CPCs, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, praise them for promoting "chastity" and "abstinence."
But CPCs have been criticized by pro-choice groups for misleading women about false links between abortion, breast cancer, mental health problems and infertility. An "undercover investigation" from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio found 47 percent of CPCs gave misleading information about abortions and mental health problems and 48 percent gave false information about abortions, breast cancer and infertility.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio criticized the measures in a statement.
"Just when you thought the budget couldn’t get any worse for Ohio women, it does," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a statement. "This budget attacks every choice a woman can make about her reproductive health. If she wants to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, her family planning provider may be defunded. If she gets pregnant when she is unable to become a parent, the abortion clinic in her community may be shuttered. If she chooses to become a parent and needs assistance to provide for her child, funding may no longer be available. Gov. Kasich can stop these attacks on women’s health care. We need him to pledge to line-item veto these dangerous measures when they reach his desk."
Just like the Ohio House budget plan, the Ohio Senate's plan also forgoes the Medicaid expansion. Kasich and Ohio Democrats have supported the expansion, but the Republican majority in the legislature has so far stood in opposition.
The expansion would use mostly federal funds from the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") to increase the eligibility cut-off for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The first three years would be completely paid by the federal government. Afterward, federal funding would be phased down to 90 percent over the next decade, where it would remain.
A study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade.
Despite staunch opposition in budget talks, Republicans have introduced a standalone bill that would expand and reform Medicaid, which Republicans say will let them take a more "holistic" approach to the health care program.
The Ohio Senate budget plan also pulled out controversial language that would have forced public universities and colleges to decide between $370 million in higher out-of-state tuition rates and providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting in Ohio.
If the budget plan is approved by the Ohio Senate, it will head to the Ohio House and Kasich for final approval.
Update (1:51 p.m.): This story was updated with comments from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council today that explained how Cincinnati could work to reduce its structural budget deficits. The presentation was presumably in response to Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who said Monday that she wanted to see a long-term deficit reduction plan before she could approve the city manager’s proposal to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.
Even with the parking plan’s one-time infusion of money (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), Cincinnati will need to make further changes to balance budgets for the next three fiscal years. To help tame these deficits, Dohoney says the city could reduce or eliminate lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, reduce subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare, semi-automate solid waste collection or introduce new or increased fees for certain programs, among other changes.
But some council members said they were more concerned about how the city will manage once it loses the parking plan’s one-time injection of funding after the 2016 fiscal year.
“I think this is a bit muddled,” Quinlivan said. “It doesn’t get to the systemic problem we have.”
Quinlivan, who has long argued for “rightsizing” police and fire departments, says the city should draw down its public safety spending to “sustainable” levels, but she says she would prefer attritioning public safety forces over abrupt, short-term cuts. Dohoney acknowledges attrition would help balance budgets, but he cautions that even attrition “would have to be married” with a plan that reduces the public’s expectations for public safety services — particularly if the city decides to not answer every 911 call by dispatching officers, which is currently required.
Dohoney says City Council needs to be clearer with its long-term budget policy. “If we’re going to make adjustments, I need clear policy direction, and I do not feel that I have it,” he says. “Give me a clear direction on where you want the police department to be, and I can get it there.”
The city manager says the city will have to approve a tax hike or cuts to government spending, which poses the possibility of layoffs, if it’s serious about eliminating structural deficit problems.
For every 1,000 residents, Cincinnati has less cops than
only two comparable cities: Cleveland and St. Louis. The fire department
has higher numbers, with Cincinnati equal to Pittsburgh and above
other comparable cities. The high levels of cops and firefighters per
capita comes despite downsizing in the police and fire departments in the past five years.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says the city may have drawn down its police force between 2000 and 2012, but the local police department has also been reorganized in a way that actually puts more cops out on patrol. Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, says street strength has moved from 832 police officers out of 1,034 officers available in 2002 to 864 out of 981 in 2012.
Between 2000 and 2012, the fire department was the only
city agency to see an increase in employment, while the city had slight
employment reductions overall. In the same time span, the General Fund increased by more than $30 million, and Cincinnati’s population fell by about 10 percent.
Metal detectors could come back to City Hall, but local legislators can’t do much more regarding local gun control. Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and other City Council members will begin pushing for more federal regulations on guns starting today. President Barack Obama is already beginning to drum up support for more regulations on guns, including a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. He also wants to close a loophole that allows people to buy firearms at gun shows without background checks. At the state level, a new bill loosening gun regulations in Ohio is facing criticism. The bill will make it easier to store firearms in cars and allows them for the first time in parking garages under the Ohio Statehouse and a nearby office tower. Gov. John Kasich said he will sign the bill.
The University of Cincinnati is launching a fundraising effort for the renovation of Nippert Stadium. The project could cost as much as $70 million. The university wants to offset as much of the cost as possible to build premium seating, with the possibility of 28 new luxury boxes and more than 1,400 premium seats being added. Goals could change based on demand and fundraising efforts.
A Cincinnati-based company and its top executive have pleaded guilty to circumventing Ohio’s competitive bid process. The actions cost Ohio taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars,
according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. The company circumvented
the competitive process by submitting multiple bids on road jobs under
different names, creating the illusion of competition.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a possible candidate for the presidency in 2016, will headline a Hamilton County GOP event. He will be a featured speaker next month at the Northeast Hamilton County Republican Club's annual pancake breakfast.
The Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy failed to follow its own compensation policies, resulting in improper over-payments of $2,325, according to Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost.
Top state officials will begin pushing and outlining school safety efforts in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
State Impact Ohio has a fantastic infographic showing the growth of charter schools in Ohio. In the Cincinnati urban district, charter schools now host 6,642 students.
A new state policy will automatically refund businesses when they’ve overpaid their taxes. The first round of the policy will refund businesses in Ohio $13 million.
The animal takeover continues. Due to the effects of climate change, some animals are moving into cities.
Today is the end of the world. Whatever. Life sucks anyway.
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped from 6.9 percent to 6.8 percent in November. Gains were concentrated in trade, transportation, and utilities, financial activities and educational and health services, with losses in construction, leisure and hospitality, government, professional and business services and information services. Overall, the state’s non-agricultural wage and salary employment increased by 1,600.
But could the recovery last? U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is now ditching efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff, a series of spending cuts and tax hikes set to kick in at the end of the year. Boehner could not get Republicans to vote on a tax hike for people making more than $1 million a year, which isn’t even enough to make President Barack Obama’s demand of increased taxes on anyone making more than $400,000. If the United States goes over the fiscal cliff, the spending cuts and tax hikes will likely devastate the economy. CityBeat wrote about U.S. Congress’ inability to focus on jobs here.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished the lame-duck session by signing 42 bills into law. The laws include loosened restrictions on gun control, an update to Ohio’s education rating system and $4.4 million in appropriations. The loosened gun control law in particular is getting criticized from Democrats in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. The law allows guns in the Ohio Statehouse garage, loosens concealed carry rules and changes the definition of an unloaded gun so gun owners can have loaded clips in cars as long as they are stored separately from guns. CityBeat wrote about the need for more gun control in this week’s commentary.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters suggested arming teachers to avoid school shootings, but a considerable amount of research shows that doesn’t work. Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig says arming teachers is a bad idea: “Certainly we can look at other options, but when you talk about arming school teachers or a school administrator without the appropriate training, and training is not just going to a target range and being able to hit center mass. How do you deal with a crisis? We're talking about a place with children.” Craig is now pushing crisis training as a major initiative.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rob Portman says school shootings need a holistic approach. The Ohio Republican says he will consider further restrictions on guns and armed school officials.
It seems a housing recovery is well underway. Cincinnati home sales are showing no signs of a slowdown.
Cincinnati is getting six historic preservation tax credits from the state government. As part of the ninth round of the program, the Ohio Development Services Agency is giving the city credits for parts of Main Street, parts of East 12th Street, parts of East McMillan Street, Abington Flats, Eden Park Pump Station and Pendleton Apartments.
The U.S. Department of Education is looking into whether Ohio charter schools discriminate against students with disabilities. Overall, charter schools in the state enroll as many students with disabilities as traditional public schools, but students with disabilities are concentrated in a few charter schools.
A federal judge upheld Ohio’s exotic animal law, which restricts who can own the animals in the state.
Judith French, a Republican, will replace retiring Justice Evelyn Stratton on the Ohio Supreme Court. Gov. Kasich’s appointment of French keeps the court’s makeup of six Republicans and one Democrat.
Genetics is perfecting the Christmas tree.
From the Twilight Zone archives comes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Christmas special.
Bill Moller is a city retiree who will be eligible to “double dip” into his pension and a city salary ($147,000 a year) when the city rehires him in February to fill an opening for assistant city manager, city spokesperson Meg Olberding confirmed in an email to CityBeat. Whether he does is entirely up to the interim city manager, Olberding wrote.
The possibility could draw criticism from city officials looking to balance Cincinnati’s structurally imbalanced operating budget. Last year, City Council drew opposition for its decision to hire Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick and allow him to double dip on his pension and a city salary.
Update: Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at Wednesday’s full council meeting, instead of a special session on Thursday as originally planned.
Moller will eventually replace Assistant City Manager David Holmes, who helped oversee efforts for The Banks and 2012 World Choir Games and filed to retire on April 1, Interim City Manager Scott Stiles wrote in a memo to City Council and the mayor.
“At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller has that experience,” Stiles wrote, noting Moller’s budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington.
City Solicitor John Curp will also leave his current position to instead act as chief counsel for the city’s two utilities, the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works.
“The utility has been undergoing a merger of back office functions to save ratepayers money, and also has been expanding services and service areas to decrease costs,” Stiles wrote. “John (Curp) has the private sector experience to assist the utilities with a market-oriented approach, and is uniquely positioned to understand both the particulars of MSD and GCWW as well as the areas in which they can expand.”
The move should save ratepayers money by allowing both utilities to rely on Curp instead of outside legal counsel when legal issues arise, according to Stiles.
Although widely praised by city officials, Curp’s move is unsurprising given the politics surrounding Mayor John Cranley’s election. Curp offered legal guidance for the parking privatization plan and streetcar project, both of which Cranley opposes.
Terrence Nestor, currently the city’s chief litigator, will replace Curp as city solicitor until a permanent appointment is made.
Stiles announced other changes as well:
• Markiea Carter, currently a development officer, will move to the city manager’s office to act as assistant to the city manager.
• Karen Alder, currently risk manager for the city, will begin assisting Finance Director Reginald Zeno as the city’s deputy finance director.
Stiles is currently filling as interim city manager while the city conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. Stiles could apply for the permanent role, but his application would need City Council support to win out over other potential candidates.
The city expects the city manager search to last through June, at which point further administrative changes could be expected if the city hires a new permanent city manager.
Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who rose to the governorship with the help of the National Rifle Association, says gun rights and gun control can co-exist. The claim is in light of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 children and six adults. Many have called for stricter gun control in light of the past year’s bouts of gun violence, but Republicans are typically opposed to such proposals. A recent poll from The Washington Post and ABC News found 59 percent of Americans support banning high-capacity ammunition clips, much like the ones used in the Newtown shooting. Another 52 percent back the ban of semi-automatic handguns.
Still, Gov. John Kasich isn’t changing his mind on the Second Amendment. He says he will sign a bill that allows guns in the Ohio Statehouse parking garage. The bill will also change the definition of an unloaded gun, allowing gun owners to carry loaded clips in their vehicles as long as they are in a separate compartment from the gun, and make concealed carry permits from other states easier to validate in Ohio.
Despite denials from city officials, mayoral candidate John Cranley and Councilman Chris Smitherman insist city government is trying to use the transit fund to fund the streetcar. But Mayor Mark Mallory in an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer said it will not happen. Mallory said the dispute dates back to a lawsuit filed by Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which runs the Metro bus system. The lawsuit demands transit funds be solely dedicated to SORTA.
Cincinnati’s U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot has vowed to continue trying to kill the streetcar. Even though voters have approved of the streetcar twice, Chabot, who also represents Warren County in district boundaries that were redrawn by Republicans, says he would rather focus federal funding on other projects, like the Brent Spence Bridge.
A conservative northern Kentucky lawmaker is supporting a bill that expands prisoners’ rights to DNA testing. The bill would allow a Cincinnati man to push for DNA testing that he claims will exonerate him of a 1987 rape and murder in Newport. Ky. Sen. John Schickel argued, “If DNA testing is good enough to send you to prison it should be good enough to get you out of prison.”
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank bought another $100 million in stock from Credit Suisse International. The deal is part of a larger program to buy back 100 million shares.
Cincinnati State is in line to obtain $123,000 from the state government. The funding could create 51 new or expanded co-op jobs.
The United Way of Greater Cincinnati announced $50.7 million in investments for 2013, a slight increase from 2012. The increase will help boost funding to prepare children for kindergarten by 5 percent. It will also fund 288 programs at 146 agencies, with seven becoming new United Way agency partners.
The Prince Hall Shriners, which describes itself as “the world’s oldest African-American fraternal organization,” is returning to Cincinnati in 2015. The convention was in Cincinnati in 2011.
Duke Energy’s local management is being shaken up. Jim Henning will take over as president for Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky.
Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro is retiring.
Did you know our solar system is sort of like a phoenix? It apparently rose from the cumulative ashes of countless stars, not one supernova.
Just a few months after the city avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees, City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 proposed restoring $26,640 in vehicle allowances that would subsidize car use for the city manager, the mayor and other director-level positions in the city administration.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat that restoring the allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness.
Olberding says car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she explains, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.
“Cutting it reneges on their original offer and part of the pretense under which they took the job,” Olberding says, adding that failing to restore the compensation promises could make future potential hires reluctant to work in Cincinnati.
But given Cincinnati’s ongoing budget problems, some council members say the proposal is out of touch.
“Are you kidding me?” asked Councilman Chris Seelbach at the Sept. 16 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “I just question the judgment of an administration that would make that kind of recommendation given our current financial situation. I’m offended that it would be even recommended.”
Even though City Council managed to avoid layoffs in this year’s budget, Cincinnati’s operating budget remains structurally unbalanced, which means the city will have to come up with new revenue or cuts to balance the budget in upcoming years.
Seelbach told CityBeat he doesn’t agree with the competitiveness arguments.
“I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” he says. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”
Still, Olberding points out that city directors often need to drive more than the typical worker, whether it’s to get to public meetings, in case of an emergency or as a natural consequence of being on call 24/7. She says that justifies what she sees as a small cost.
The restoration was tucked into a proposal from the city manager that restores more than $6.7 million in previous cuts by using revenue left over from the previous budget cycle. The car allowance portion is about 0.3 percent of the total proposal and less than one-hundredth of a percent of the city’s overall operating budget.
For some city officials, the issue gets to what they perceive as a disconnect between private individuals and the government: Although thousands of dollars might seem like a lot of money to the typical person, the sum is usually worth much less than a penny on the dollar in city budget terms.
But Seelbach says garbage collectors and other city workers who haven’t received a raise in years would be thrilled to split $22,000, even if the sum doesn’t mean much in total budget terms.
“It shows a lack of respect for the people who make this city work,” Seelbach says.
The proposal also comes shortly after a tense budget showdown and in the middle of an election year for City Council and the mayor’s office.
Dohoney repeatedly said throughout the past year that the city would have to lay off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters, if it didn’t lease its parking meters to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The city ultimately avoided the layoffs without the parking lease by making cuts in various areas, including the city’s parks, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues, but the city is still pursuing the lease to pay for economic development projects.
City Council will take up the restoration measures at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24.
Updated at 4:09 p.m. with comments from Councilman Chris Seelbach.