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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
County Commissioner Todd Portune is proposing a 0.25 percent sales tax hike to stabilize the stadium fund and preserve the property tax rebate promised to voters in 1996. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will have to approve the hike before it becomes law. It would raise the county sales tax from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent.
Portune, the lone Democrat on the three-man board, says the county got to this point after years of problems with the stadium fund’s solvency culminated into one of two options: either the sales tax goes up or the property tax rebate is rolled back. He claims the two options are the only way to keep the stadium fund stable.
Portune says the 0.25-percent increase on the sales tax will hurt low-income families less than rolling back the property tax rebate. He reasoned the impact of the property tax rollback would focus on Hamilton County residents, including low-income families, while any hike in the sales tax is spread out on anyone who spends money in Hamilton County, including visitors from around the Tristate area. He also pointed out that essentials like food and medicine are exempt from the sales tax, which gives some relief to anyone trying to make ends meet.
On support from other commissioners, Portune says Board President Greg Hartmann agreed either the rebate has to go or the sales tax has to go up, but Hartmann could not be reached by CityBeat for further comment. This story will be updated if comments become available.
Update (Nov. 29, 4:25 p.m.): Hartmann called CityBeat after this story was published. He says he has not made a final decision, but he echoed Portune's comments by saying the
“reality of the situation” demands choosing between a sales tax hike or property tax rollback. If the commissioners take the latter option, Hartmann says only a partial rollback will be necessary to draw enough funds. He also cautioned that any one-time sales and spending cuts will not be enough to stabilize the stadium fund in the long term.
Commissioner Chris Monzel says he would rather keep the stadium fund balanced for one year with short-term cuts, including a cut on further investments in The Banks development before raising taxes. After the year is up, Monzel says commissioners could see if revenue from the new Horseshoe Casino and a possible deal involving the University of Cincinnati using Paul Brown Stadium would be enough to sustain the stadium fund in the long term.
The property tax rebate and sales taxes are both generally
considered regressive, meaning they favor the wealthy more than the
poor. In simple terms, as income goes down, spending on goods and
services take bigger bites out of a person’s income. A sales tax makes
that disproportionate burden even larger.
One analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer found the wealthy actually made more money from the property tax rebate than they were taxed by the half-cent sales tax raise that was initially meant to support the stadium fund.
For a previous story covering the stadium fund, Neil DeMause told CityBeat the stadium fund’s problems stem from the county government making a “terrible deal” with the Reds and Bengals. DeMause is a journalist who has chronicled his 15-year investigation of stadium deals in his book “Field of Schemes.”
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.
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.