The Ohio Senate sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that prevents the state auditor from auditing private funds at JobsOhio and other publicly funded private entities. State Auditor Dave Yost has been pursuing a full audit of JobsOhio in the past few months, but state Republicans, led by Kasich, have opposed the audit. Ohio Democrats were quick to respond to the bill by asking what JobsOhio and Republicans have to hide. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency established by Kasich and Republican legislators meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
City Council passed an operating budget yesterday that slashes several city services but prevents laying off cops and firefighters. Human services funding, which goes to programs that aid the homeless and poor, is getting some of the largest cuts, continuing what Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition says is a decade-long trend that has brought down human services funding from 1.5 percent of the budget to 0.3 percent. The budget also makes cuts to other programs and raises property taxes and several fees.
City Council will likely vote in June on how to fix the streetcar budget gap. So far, the only known plan is the city manager’s proposal, which would pull funding from various capital funding sources. The streetcar budget is part of the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
The Ohio Senate budget bill increases education funding over the Ohio House bill. The Senate bill raises the limit on how much a school district can see its state funding increase, potentially putting fast-growing suburban schools at an advantage. The House and Senate bills use a model that gives schools base funding for each pupil — a model entirely different from Kasich’s proposal, which critics labeled wrongheaded and regressive.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of Elections that will send 39 more “double voters” to the prosecutor. In most cases, the “double voter” filed an absentee ballot and voted in-person with a provision ballot on Election Day. The provisional ballots always ended up being tossed out, but Republicans say they want to find out if there were any bad intentions. Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke, who’s also head of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, called Husted’s decision a “travesty,” labeling the investigation a “witch hunt, aimed at scaring the hell out of voters.” Husted, a Republican, said the cases at least deserve an investigation, even if they don’t lead to an indictment.
Mayor Mark Mallory and local business leaders are calling on Congress to take up immigration reform, which they argue will come as a boost to the economy. “In order to continue to have the strongest economy in the world, we need to have the most innovative and creative ideas being developed right here in Cincinnati and across the country,” Mallory said in a statement. “That requires the best and brightest talent from around the globe being welcomed to our country through a fair and sound system of immigration.”
WVXU says the list of local bike friendly destinations keeps growing.
Traveling to Mars could get someone fried by radiation.
Today is the mayoral primary election between Democrat Roxanne Qualls, Democrat John Cranley, Libertarian Jim Berns and Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are widely seen as the frontrunners. The big difference between the two candidates: Qualls supports and Cranley opposes the streetcar project and parking lease. Polls will be open until 7:30 p.m. tonight. To find out more information and where to vote, visit the Hamilton County Board of Elections website here.
LGBT groups, civil libertarians and legislators came together in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus yesterday to announce Why Marriage Matters Ohio, a new statewide effort to educate and persuade Ohioans to support legalizing same-sex marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Equality Ohio, Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign are all involved. The efforts have also been endorsed by faith and business community leaders, according to the groups. The groups say the campaign is partly in response to public polling. The 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found Ohioans evenly divided on same-sex marriage: 47 percent supported it and 47 opposed it. But the survey went against earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University, which found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage.
If he’s elected governor, Democrat Ed FitzGerald says he would make changes to JobsOhio to make it more transparent and open to a public audit, but he says he wouldn’t dismantle the privatized development agency altogether. FitzGerald acknowledges he would prefer a public agency to land the state’s development deals, but he says it’s unrealistic to expect the Republican-controlled General Assembly to repeal JobsOhio. The agency was established by Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republicans in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Democrats have criticized JobsOhio for a lack of transparency that has mired it in several scandals and potential conflicts of interest lately, while Republicans insist the agency’s privatized, secretive nature help it establish job-creating development deals more quickly.
In a letter to the city manager, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is calling on the city to host town hall meetings with the four final candidates for Cincinnati Police chief. Sittenfeld says the meetings would help assess how the next police chief responds to the community and takes feedback. City Manager Milton Dohoney announced on Sept. 5 that city officials had narrowed down its pool of candidates to four: acting Chief Paul Humphries; Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
Hamilton County commissioners are likely to keep property taxes higher to pay for the stadium fund, which is running in the positive for the next five years after years of shortfalls. Last year, commissioners agreed to reduce the property tax rollback by half, effectively raising property taxes by $35 for every $100,000 in a home’s value. With yesterday’s news, it’s looking like the property tax hike will remain permanent. Even without the full rollback in place, the stadium fund is expected to start producing shortfalls again in 2019. The rollback disproportionately benefits the wealthy, who end up getting much more money back than low- and middle-income residents.
Meanwhile, county commissioners might take up an insurance policy with PNC Bank to meet debt obligations on the stadium fund for the next three years. Commissioner Greg Hartmann says the plan would give the county enough time to refinance, which could help reduce the fund’s problems.
City Council committees moved forward with two major pieces of legislation yesterday:
• Qualls’ plan would enforce stricter regulations on the city’s lobbyists and expand disclosure requirements for city officials to make the political process more transparent.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach’s proposal would help address cellphone theft by making it more difficult to sell the stolen devices.
As it stands, the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund needs more money to stay solvent. Still, officials say the fund needs time for newly implemented changes to start making an impact.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino now stands as the top earner among Ohio casinos, according to the latest state data.
New hybrid engines could lead to a new era of more affordable spaceplanes.
CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here.
State Auditor Dave Yost says he will investigate the potential conflicts of interest found by the Ohio Ethics Commission for nine of 22 top JobsOhio officials, including six of nine board members. For critics, the conflicts of interest add more concerns about JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that proposes tax breaks for businesses and has been mired in controversy ever since it was set up by Gov. John Kasich and Republicans to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Because the agency is privatized and deals with private businesses, many of its dealings are kept from the public under state law. Republicans argue the secrecy is necessary to allow JobsOhio to more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say the secrecy makes it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable.
A state board approved nearly $3 billion in transportation projects proposed by Kasich, including work on the MLK/I-75 Interchange in Cincinnati that city and state officials say will create thousands of jobs in the region. The projects will require additional state and local money to be fully funded over the next few years.
In comparison to men, Ohio women have lower incomes, hold fewer leadership roles and disproportionately suffer from the state’s high infant mortality rate. The issues placed Ohio at No. 30 out of 50 states for women’s issues in a Sept. 25 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). The report analyzed 36 indicators for women in the categories of economic security, leadership and health; it then graded the states and ranked them based on the grades. CAP, a left-leaning organization, is touting the report to support progressive policies that could help lift women out of such disparities, including the federally funded Medicaid expansion and an increase to minimum wages.Commentary: “Ohio legislator worried a same-sex marriage case will turn the country socialist, make him cry.”
Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, says he doesn’t know if he can stop the parking plan if he’s elected. Cranley explained it will only be possible if the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority doesn’t set up contracts and sell bonds for the deal before the election. Under the parking plan, the city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire various private operators to manage the assets. Qualls supports the plan because it will raise money and resources to fund development projects and modernize the city’s parking services, but Cranley argues it cedes too much control over the city’s parking assets.
It turns out Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye won’t be removed from Ohio’s education guidelines. State Board of Education President Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, initially called the book “pornographic” and demanded its removal from the state guidelines, which led the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to criticize Terhar and ask her to reconsider her comments.
With the latest delay, small businesses won’t be able to enroll online for Obamacare’s marketplaces until November. Until then, small businesses will only be able to sign up by mail, fax or phone. The delay is the latest of a few setbacks for Obamacare, but the rest of the federally run online marketplaces will still launch on Oct. 1 as planned. CityBeat covered statewide efforts to promote and obstruct the marketplaces in further detail here.
Gov. Kasich is donating to charity more than $22,000 that he received in campaign contributions from an indicted man.
The city has begun work on a retail corridor that will start on Fourth Street and run north through Race Street. The corridor will take years to complete, but city officials say it will be different than previous failed plans.
The number of passengers whose trips originate at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has increased for six straight months, according to airport officials.
Data-analysis company Dunnhumby is looking to invest in Cincinnati startups.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center landed federal money to test vaccines. The contract could prove the largest the hospital has ever obtained, according to The Business Courier.
Police in the Netherlands use trained rats to catch criminals.
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
In a 2-1 ruling announced today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed an injunction holding up the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, allowing the city to move on with the plan and continue the use of emergency clauses. The plan, which CityBeat covered in further detail here, will raise $92 million in upfront money and at least $3 million in annual increments for the city, which the city planned to use to help balance the city budget and pursue a slate of development projects, including a downtown grocery store. But critics argue the plan will lead to a spike in parking rates and goes too far in expanding operating hours for parking meters, which they say could hurt downtown business. CityBeat will have more on this story later today.
City Council will vote today on whether it will move on with using $12 million in urban renewal funds to build a downtown grocery store, luxury apartment tower and parking garage to replace Pogue’s Garage. The Budget and Finance Committee already approved the project in a 7-0 vote Monday. If the full session of City Council approves the project, construction could begin late this year or early 2014, which means likely completion in 2015 or 2016.
Gov. John Kasich was unclear on whether he’ll support anti-abortion measures passed by the Ohio House and Senate in their budget bills. The governor reiterated that he’s “pro-life,” but he said he’s not sure if the measures go too far. The budget bills would effectively defund Planned Parenthood, use federal funds for pro-abstinence, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and allow the state health director to shut down abortion clinics by making it more difficult for them to get required transfer agreements with hospitals.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital ranked No. 3 in a new U.S. News and World Report for pediatric hospitals. The hospital also ranked No. 1 for pediatric cancer care.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Columbus won’t reinstate a fired gay teacher. But while Catholic institutions continue pursuing conservative social policies, some groups are pushing for the Church to reform.
New research found hands-free technology doesn’t make driving safer.
A study from Duke University found video gamers really do see more and better.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents.
The court argued the Republican-controlled General Assembly largely
exempted JobsOhio from public records law and therefore allowed the agency to keep most of its inner workings secret.
The decision was a major loss for advocacy group ProgressOhio, which claims the documents should be on the public record.
The Republican-controlled legislature, with the support of
Republican Gov. John Kasich, in 2011 established JobsOhio, a privatized
development agency, to replace the Ohio Department of
Development. The JobsOhio Board of Directors is chaired by wealthy Ohio businessmen.
Republicans argue JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly foster economic development deals across the state. Democrats say the anti-transparency measures make it far too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it recommends how to spend taxpayer dollars.
An Oct. 23 report criticized JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies around the country for consistently displaying conflicts of interest and other scandalous behavior. The report came from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments.
Kasich previously touted JobsOhio as one of the reasons Ohio’s economy quickly recovered following the Great Recession, but recent indicators show the state’s economy is now slowing down. Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.
Others have more directly questioned the Kasich administration’s claims to success. An Oct. 29 investigation from The Toledo Blade found jobs numbers from the Ohio Development Services Agency are vastly inflated, indicating that the state government isn’t producing nearly as many jobs as it claims.
Youngstown's Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, Ohio's only privately run prison, has had a fraught history since it was opened by Corrections Corporation of America in 1997. In its first year, the prison saw 13 stabbings, two murders and six escapes, far more than comparable prisons.
Under a cloud of violence and mismanagement, the prison closed in 2001, only to reopen three years later on a federal contract to hold mostly undocumented immigrants who have committed federal crimes.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling for the federal government to stop contracting CCA to hold immigrant prisoners at the NEOCC, citing mismanagement at private prisons across the country.
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Ohioans,” says ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner. “For-profit prisons have been a failed experiment here for decades. Violence increases, drug use is common and medical care is neglected, leading to facilities deteriorating rapidly. Despite all these problems, we continue to give taxpayer money to these for-profit companies that are subject to little oversight.”
Critics like Brickner say private prisons create perverse incentives to maximize the number of incarcerated people and keep inmates in jail longer. Supporters say private prisons are cheaper because companies are compelled to run them more efficiently to turn a profit.
CityBeat has reported on issues at the prison extensively. Problems with violence among prisoners and between prisoners and staff, drug use, unsanitary conditions, medical neglect and poor ventilation are common in the facility, according to inmates and some officials.
In "Liberty for Sale," published in September of 2012, then-CityBeat reporter German Lopez explored some of the problems running rampant at NEOCC and other private prisons. Adding profit motive to incarceration has some serious implications, Lopez wrote:
The conflict between costs and adequate safety measures presents real-life, statistical consequences. A study at George Washington University found private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and a 66 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assault than publicly owned and managed prisons. Another study, in the Federal Probation Journal in 2004, had similar results — it found that, compared to public prisons, private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and inmate-on-inmate assault.
Lopez also found that private prisons may not even be cheaper and more efficient in the long run — the main point supporters of the private prison system use to explain why they're preferable to state or federally run facilities.
CCA’s contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is up in 2015, and the ACLU is asking the federal government not to extend it. The call comes after a report done by the advocacy group found a number of human rights violations at other privately run prisons contracted to detain immigrant prisoners in Texas. The report found similar abuses at these facilities, with prisoners experiencing neglect, violence and unsanitary conditions.