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by German Lopez 07.12.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Budget at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Streetcar Gets Good News with New Construction Bid

Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund

Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the city established in case of further cost overruns.

In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

During discussions for the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.

Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if the project was to continue.

With the construction bids taken care of, the only known funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The issue is currently being decided in court.

Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.

by German Lopez 03.19.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Taxes at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Policy Matters Pushes Earned Income Tax Credit

Tax credits could be progressive alternative to governor's tax plan

Policy Matters Ohio is now pushing an earned income tax credit (EITC) that would benefit the state’s poor and middle class, including more than 822,000 working families. The plan could be a progressive replacement for Republican Gov. John Kasich’s proposed tax plan, which some reports claim disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

The EITC is a tax credit targeted at working people who have low to moderate income, particularly those with children. It is currently used by the federal government, 24 states and Washington, D.C.

The report from Policy Matters, a left-leaning policy research group, found a 10-percent EITC would cost about $184 million per year, producing an estimated $224 million in economic benefits, and a 20-percent EITC would cost about $367 million per year, producing an estimated $446 million in economic benefits.

If state legislators set aside Gov. John Kasich’s tax proposals, the state would be left with about $280.4 million in general revenue available for fiscal year 2014 and about $690.2 million available in fiscal year 2015, according to an analysis of Kasich’s budget bluebook. That would be more than enough money in fiscal year 2014 to pay for a 10-percent EITC, and even a 20-percent EITC would only eat up about half of available funds in fiscal year 2015.

Using a model from the nonpartisan Institute for Tax and Economic Policy, the Policy Matters report found a state EITC would benefit Ohioans making less than $51,000 per year. Under a 10-percent credit, qualifying families making less than $18,000 would get $190 on average, qualifying families making between $18,000 and $33,000 would get $323 on average and qualifying families making between $33,000 and $51,000 would get $149 on average, according to the report.

Under a 20-percent credit, benefits would be bumped up to $381 on average for qualifying families making less than $18,000 per year, $646 on average for qualifying families making between $18,000 and $33,000 and $298 for qualifying families making between $33,000 and $51,000, according to the report.

These benefits would then be spent in a way that helps families, local communities and small businesses, according to the Policy Matters report: “Families that claim the EITC use the refunds to pay for basic needs like housing, food, transportation and child care. These purchases stimulate local economies. A number of studies focusing on the economic impacts of the EITC find that small businesses and other taxes benefit from a cash infusion into the local economy.”

The report claims a state EITC would also result in a fairer tax system that better helps the state’s low- and middle-income earners, stronger incentives to work and better social and economic results for EITC recipients.

The Policy Matters report touts the federal EITC, which was created by former President Gerald Ford in 1975 and has been expanded by every presidential administration since, to support adopting a similar policy in the state: “The federal Earned Income Tax Credit does more than any other program to keep working families out of poverty. … (It) is lauded for its direct impact in keeping families with children above the poverty line, making work pay, and sending federal dollars to local communities.”

Anyone making $50,270 a year or less qualifies for the federal EITC. The tax credit is built so it particularly benefits families with children, and it “encourages families making at or near minimum wage to work more hours since the credit has a longer, more gradual phase-out range compared to other programs,” according to the Policy Matters report.

The report says the federal EITC has already benefited more than 950,000 Ohio families with an average refund of $2,238.

In previous analyses, Policy Matters found Kasich’s tax proposals disproportionately benefit the wealthy and actually raise taxes on the state’s poor and middle class (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20). But Kasich says his tax plan will cut taxes for “job creators,” particularly the state’s small businesses.

The governor’s tax proposals are facing bipartisan resistance, and the Republican-controlled Ohio House is currently considering setting the proposals aside while the rest of the budget is worked out, according to Gongwer.

In a press conference on March 14, local officials around the state, including Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, suggested dropping income tax cuts and instead using the revenue to restore local government funding cuts, which have totaled $1.4 billion since Kasich took office.

by German Lopez 12.11.2012
Posted In: Energy, Economy, News, Budget, Governor, Privatization at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Kasich lacks re-election support, budget faces scrutiny, city increasing green incentives

For the first time since inauguration, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a positive approval rating, but a plurality of registered voters say Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term. The Quinnipac University poll attributed the increase in Kasich’s approval rating to “high levels of satisfaction among Ohio voters with life in the Buckeye State.” About 42 percent of respondents approved of Kasich, while 35 percent disapproved. About 42 percent said Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term, while 36 percent said he does. The poll surveyed 1,165 registered voters with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.

Last night, Cincinnati held its final public hearing on City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposed budget. About 40 people spoke during the meeting, with many voicing concern about Media Bridges funding, which CityBeat recently covered here. The budget has also come under scrutiny due to its privatization of parking services, but Dohoney says the choice is privatization or 344 layoffs.

Cincinnati plans to bolster its green building incentives. City officials are trying to amend the city’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to encourage higher levels of investment in green projects. Since LEED standards were first approved in 2009, they have been criticized for only offering strong incentives for lower levels of certification. The amendment seeks to make the higher levels of certification more appealing.

University Hospital is being renamed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

An “anti-immigrant bill” proposed by Cincinnati’s Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz is not being received well by Innovation Ohio. S.B. 323 seeks to limit workers’ compensation to illegal immigrants, but the Ohio policy research group is not sure that’s a legitimate problem. The organization is also worried the bill will impose a regulatory burden on the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Ohio’s workers without providing extra funds and training to carry out the regulations.

Ohio is improving in its battle against human trafficking. The state earned a “C” and it was labeled “most improved” in a new report from the Polaris Project. But one state legislator wants to go further by placing tougher standards on “johns” participating in the sex trade. CityBeat previously wrote about the human trafficking problem in Ohio here.

The Ohio Tax Credit Authority approved enough credits to help create about 500 jobs in Greater Cincinnati.

Michigan may have recently passed its anti-union “right-to-work” law, but Gov. Kasich does not share a similar interest.

Kasich will announce his changes to the Ohio Turnpike Thursday and Friday. The governor says his proposed changes will unlock “greater wealth,” but critics are worried Kasich is about to sell off a major public asset.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is still defending his decisions during the lead-up the election. Husted has now become infamous nationwide due to his pre-election record, which CityBeat wrote about here.

Even Jesus would be jealous. Science can now turn human urine into brain cells.
by German Lopez 04.22.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Taxes at 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Policy Group: Ohio House Tax Plan Favors Wealthy

Policy Matters finds reworked plan gives biggest bonuses to top 1 percent

The budget bill currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature would cut taxes in a way that disproportionately favors the wealthy, according to a new analysis from Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy group.

The budget bill, which was passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House with a 61-35 vote on April 18, would cut state income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent. Policy Matters analyzed the result for each tax bracket: For the top 1 percent, the tax plan would cut $2,717 in taxes on average. For the middle 20 percent, it would amount to a $51 cut on average. For the bottom 20 percent, it would result in $3 on average.

The report explains the disproportionate gains are caused by the structure behind Ohio’s tax system: Ohio has a graduated income tax, so people pay more on higher levels of earnings. Because of that, across-the-board tax cuts give much more money to the wealthiest Ohioans. This reinforces inequality and adds to the unfairness of the state and local tax system, which is weighted in favor of upper-income taxpayers when all state and local taxes are taken into account.

Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters, says the Ohio House tax plan will also have little impact on Ohio’s economy.

“Since the 21-percent reduction in state income taxes approved in 2005, Ohio’s economy has underperformed the nation,” Schiller said in a statement. “There is little reason to believe that another round of income-tax cuts will produce a different result.”

Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Speaker of the House William Batchelder and Ohio House Republicans, wrote in an email to CityBeat that there are still two months for the state government to finalize the details of the tax plan as it works through the Ohio legislature.

The budget bill still has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate. If changes are made to the Ohio House proposal, the Ohio Senate bill would have to be concurred by the Ohio House. It would then need to be signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, who could line-item veto certain parts of the bill or veto the entire bill.

“It’s disappointing to see that Policy Matters Ohio would begrudge an income tax cut which will benefit all Ohioans,” Dittoe wrote in the email. “Of the seven citations in their report, ironically, five of them refer back to previous ‘studies’ issued by none other than Policy Matters Ohio. Before issuing a study of this magnitude, it may be wise for them to cite something other than themselves to make the report more credible.”

Policy Matter’s findings were gathered through the independent Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which plugs the numbers into its own model to gauge the impact of tax cuts on different income levels.

The resulting numbers do little to deflate concerns raised by Policy Matters about Kasich’s tax proposal, which was a much larger 20-percent across-the-board income tax cut. Policy Matters found Kasich’s tax plan also favored the wealthy, except the overall plan actually raised taxes on the state’s poorest because it included an expansion of the sales tax that the Ohio House rejected (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).

by German Lopez 04.30.2013
Posted In: News, Education, Budget at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Survey Confirms Statewide School Cuts

Seventy percent of schools cut budgets for 2012-2013 school year

A survey released April 29 found Ohio schools are making cutbacks in response to budget cuts previously approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature.

The 15-question survey from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, which received responses from 42 percent of the state’s K-12 school districts in 82 counties, found 70 percent of Ohio schools made cuts for the ongoing 2012-2013 school year, 82 percent cut positions, 84 percent reduced or froze compensation and 62 percent expect budget shortfalls next year if the state doesn’t increase funding.

“Long-term investment in education is the best way to build opportunity for Ohioans,” said Piet van Lier, education researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement. “Instead, Ohio’s cuts to school funding have forced schools to get rid of staff, reduce pay, cut materials and increase class sizes.”

The survey found the cuts have led to a reduction in education quality, with 43 percent of Ohio schools reporting larger class sizes, 23 percent reporting less course options, 57 percent cutting materials, supplies, textbooks or equipment for the 2012-2013 school year and 22 percent reducing extracurricular activities or introducing pay-to-play for them.

Policy Matters and Innovation Ohio, another left-leaning think tank, previously found Kasich’s 2012-2013 budget slashed education funding by $1.8 billion.

In his latest budget proposal, Kasich proposed increasing education funding, although in a way that disproportionately benefited wealthier school districts (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20). Since then, the Ohio House passed its own budget bill that rejects Kasich’s proposal and increases overall school funding in a more equitable way.

But Policy Matters says the increases aren’t enough. Its analysis found school funding is failing to keep up with inflation, with 2015 funding projected to fall $1.2 billion short of what funding would have looked like if it had kept up with 2006’s inflation-adjusted levels.

“Neither Gov. Kasich nor the Ohio House have adequately addressed the needs of Ohio’s schools in their budget proposals,” van Lier said in a statement. “The Senate must now lead the way in crafting a stronger, more predictable funding system for the next two years and beyond.”

Cincinnati Public Schools said state funding cuts were one reason the school district needed Cincinnati voters to approve a school levy in 2012 (“Battered But Not Broken,” issue of Oct. 3). The levy, known as Issue 42, passed in the November election.

Innovation Ohio previously found Kasich’s budget cuts have led to levies all around the state, effectively increasing local taxes by $1.3 billion since May 2011.

“By cutting taxes primarily for the wealthy at the state level, Gov. Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature have merely pushed the need for tax increases down to the local level,” said Janetta King, president of Innovation Ohio, in a statement.

Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols previously told CityBeat that the cuts were necessary to balance the budget, as required by state law. “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit,” he said. “We had to fix that.”

by Ben L. Kaufman 02.19.2013

Curmudgeon Notes 2.20.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

 • Giovanna Chirri, the veteran Vaticanista who understood the pope’s Latin, broke the news that he’d just announced his resignation. She works for the Italian news agency, ANSA. Her skill recalled Ernest Sackler at Rome’s UPI bureau when I was a photojournalist stringer during John XXIII’s papacy. Ernest truly understood Vatican Latin well enough to turn it into flowing English; colleagues spoke of him with awe. 

• I’m grateful to the Enquirer for running a story on Sen. Rand Paul’s response to the State of the Union Message. It wasn’t on NPR or any other network that I could find. His Washington office did not respond to my question of whether the Kentucky Republican offered his remarks to any broadcasters/cable networks. 

• Tens of millions of Americans will become eligible for subsidized medical care under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Who’s going to treat them? I haven’t seen that in the news. And while reporters are working out that story, ask how the required additional primary care physicians will pay off college and medical school debts on the salaries that will be paid to their specialties.  

• And once journalists dig into the supply of physicians to handle Medicaid expansion, I hope they’ll ask who’s going to staff quality preschool education for every American child. Obama can be aspirational, but we’re not talking about minimum wage diaper changers. Early learning centers require trained pre-school educators. And while they’re at it, reporters should ask where these new early childhood educators will train and who’s going pick up the tab. After all, they’ll never repay college loans on day care wages. 

• Maybe I missed it in the admiring coverage of our government killing American Islamists abroad with drone rocket attacks: What prevents Obama from killing Americans in this country with drone strikes? None of the news stories or commentaries I’ve read or heard addressed that point. 

There would be no shortage of targets. Wouldn’t the sheriff have loved a drone-launched missile to kill Christopher Dorner, the rogue ex-LAPD cop? That might have spared the deputy whom Dorner killed during the flaming finale in the San Bernardino mountains. And what prevents our increasingly militarized police from using their own armed drones? 

Imagine what authorities could have done with armed drones during earlier, infamous encounters:

A missile fired at armed members of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, S.D., could have avenged inept, vain and foolish George Armstrong Custer and FBI agents killed in the 1973 siege. 

No feds would have died if a drone-launched missile incinerated Randy Weaver’s family with during its deadly 1992 confrontation with feds at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. 

David Koresh and the Branch Davidian religious sect were incinerated by the feds’ 1993  armored assault in Texas. That would have been a perfect photo op for a domestic drone attack.

• Sometimes, “national security” is the rationale for requested or commanded self-censorship, even when secrets aren’t secret. 

For instance, British editors held stories about Prince Harry until he returned the first time from Afghanistan. However, an Australian women’s magazine reported he was in combat. The non-secret was a secret because no one paid attention.

More recently, the new U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia was supposed to be a secret. Obama officials asked major news media to hold the story and they agreed. National security, you know.

But it wasn’t a secret. Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple said Fox News already had reported U.S. plans to build the facility in Sept. 2011. Three months before that, the Times of London reported construction of the Saudi drone base. 

When the New York Times broke the agreement and reported the Saudi drone base, everyone jumped on the story. Now, the Times, the Post and AP are trying to explain why they kept the non-secret from us.  

• Gone are the days when senior Israeli government officials could call in top editors and broadcasters and tell them what they could not report. Last week, a tsunami of technology overwhelmed official Israeli efforts to censor the story of Prisoner X. Israeli journalists were not to report his existence or mention the censorship order. National security, you know. However, an Australian network named an Aussie as Prisoner X and said he reportedly committed suicide three years ago in an Israeli prison. Social media and the online world took it from there: "Aussie recruited by Israeli spy agency dies in Israeli prison." Israel dropped efforts to censor the Prisoner X story and is issuing official statements about the case. 

• San Bernardino’s sheriff asked journalists to quit tweeting from the final gunfight with former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner. Bizarre. If authorities feared Dorner would gain tactical information, they misread his situation: Dorner was surrounded in a mountain cabin, tear gas was being lobbed in and men outside were trying to shoot him. He probably was too busy to read tweets. Moreover, only one reporter was close enough to tweet anything remotely useful to anyone. Most reporters initially or finally ignored the sheriff. 

The tweet issue first arose during the 2008 Muslim terrorist attack on Mumbai when invaded the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Some authorities reportedly feared accomplices outside were reading news media tweets and forwarding tactical information about police and army movements to gunmen inside. I don’t remember if anyone asked reporters to quit tweeting. 

• A new poll says Fox hit an alltime low for the four years Public Policy Polling has tracked trust/distrust among TV networks: 41 percent trust Fox, 46 percent do not. The poll didn’t find anything for other networks to brag about. Only PBS had more “trust” than “distrust” among viewers: 52 percent trust, 29 percent don’t trust. The poll questioned 800 voters by telephone from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. 

• Garry Wills’ new book, Why Priests, sets out to debunk Catholicism’s dearest dogmas and doctrines concerning priests, bishops and the papacy. NPR’s Diane Rehm gave him an hour last week to say why Catholic ordained clergy are an unnecessary accretion. Then she asked an outgunned parish priest from the Washington, D.C. area for a rebuttal. If she really wanted a lively, informed argument, there is no shortage of priest-scholars who could have matched Wills’ credentials and talents as an historian. It was unfair and cringe-worthy. 

• It’s touchy when an unpleasantry is brought up in an obit: a long forgiven conviction, a “love child,” whatever. More often, predictably awkward moments are omitted in the spirit of de mortuis nil nisi bonum. Here’s HuffingtonPost on a full-blown omission in the recent obit on former New York mayor and mensch Ed Koch: 

“The New York Times revised its Friday obituary . . . after several observers noticed that it lacked any mention of his controversial record on AIDS. The paper's obituary, written by longtime staffer Robert D. MacFadden, weighed in at 5,500 words. Yet, in the first version of the piece, AIDS was mentioned exactly once, in a passing reference to ‘the scandals and the scourges of crack cocaine, homelessness and AIDS.’ The Times also prepared a 22-minute video on Koch's life that did not mention AIDS. This struck many as odd; after all, Koch presided over the earliest years of AIDS, and spent many years being targeted by gay activists who thought he was not doing nearly enough to stop the spread of the disease. Legendary writer and activist Larry Kramer called Koch ‘a murderer of his own people’ because the mayor was widely known as a closeted gay man.”

• New York’s Ed Koch admired Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s recorded last words before Muslim terrorists beheaded him. Koch had Pearl’s affirmation of faith engraved on his own tombstone in Manhattan’s Trinity Church graveyard: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”  

• A former student reporter rarely rates an obit in the national media, but Annette Buchanan wasn’t ordinary. In the mid-1960s, she refused a court order to name sources for her story about student marijuana use on the University of Oregon campus. Her story ran in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the campus paper. No shield law protected her promise of confidentiality. The Emerald said she was fined the maximum $300 and the state supreme court affirmed her contempt of court conviction. That led to the creation of Oregon’s shield law for journalists. She died recently.

• An unresolved First Amendment issue is whether bloggers can be protected by state shield laws that allow journalists to keep sources secret. The latest case is from New Jersey. Poynter.com said blogger Tina Renna refused to identify government officials whom she said misused county generators after Hurricane Sandy. Union County prosecutors demanded the 16 names, saying Renna wasn’t a journalist protected by New Jersey’s shield law because she’s been involved in politics, her blog is biased and she’s often critical of county government. 

The Newark Star-Ledger took her side. It said shield law protection “shouldn’t hinge on whether someone is a professional, nonpartisan or even reliable journalist. It’s a functional test: Does Renna gather information that’s in the public interest and publish it? Yes.” Renna “can be a little wild, she’s not the same as a professional reporter and she drives local officials crazy. But part of democracy is putting up with Tina Renna.” A court will probe whether Renna is a journalist as defined by the state shield law; that is, whether bloggers can be included by analogy under protected electronic news media.

• Few ledes — introductory sentences in news stories — are as lame as those saying the subject “doesn’t look” like some stereotype. For years, it usually referred to a woman in an unconventional (read men’s) occupation or pastime. “She didn’t look like a steelworker . . . “  or, “You wouldn’t think a tiny blonde bagged a deadly wild boar with a huge .44 magnum revolver.” Male subjects aren’t immune, as in this lede from a recent Washington Post story: “Farmer Hugh Bowman hardly looks the part of a revolutionary who stands in the way of promising new biotech discoveries and threatens Monsanto’s pursuit of new products . . . ”

What do revolutionaries look like? Lenin was pictured in suit and tie. Gandhi wore a white, draped sari or dhoti, Mandela and fellow ANC rebels often wore suits and ties. Young 1960s American and French student rebels never wore suits and ties and needed haircuts. Today’s young North African activists dress the same for class or a demonstration. 

“Doesn’t look like” wouldn’t even fit an androgynous male model in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show. He’d be there because he looks like a classic, young, leggy “angel.” 

• Have you noticed how hurricanes, floods, blizzards and tornadoes are morphing from evidence of climate change into photo ops? News media see them as so common that little reporting is required beyond images and stories of hardship: shoppers hoarding sliced white bread, downed trees and shattered homes, marooned airline passengers and days without power. Maybe there’s the throwaway quote from some climatologist about change affecting weather, but for the most part, that’s it. I’m betting this deliberate ignorance is a Republican Party plot to show that increasingly frequent, dangerous weather reflects the Intelligent Design that gave us dino-riding cavemen a few thousand years ago. 

The Enquirer devoted Page 1 to a dramatic OMG! graphic and story suggesting Cincinnati was terrible because it had no black candidate for mayor. An accompanying list of movers and shakers had few blacks. The presentation suggested the all-white mayoral contest meant amiss in a city where whites are the largest minority. However, whites and blacks told reporters that leadership rather than color was foremost among attributes they sought in a mayor. Moreover, with so many African Americans in visible leadership roles in the city, having a black mayor succeed a black mayor was less of an issue than the paper suggested. 

by Andy Brownfield 12.06.2012

Activists Urge Boehner to Make Pentagon Cuts

Statement of principles presented to staffer outside of West Chester office

Activists gathered on Thursday outside of the West Chester office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, asking the House’s top official to look at reducing military spending when coming up with a budget.

The group of nearly two dozen — which included nuns, a veteran, a retiree advocate, a small businessman and progressive activists — held signs reading, “It is time for Nation Building in the United States. Cut Massive Pentagon Budget Now!” and “End Tax Breaks for Richest 2%.”

“We’re here today in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s West Chester office to drive home the fact that we believe that over 50 percent of the budget magically, this elephant in the House, has failed to be discussed as we discuss taking away services that provide human needs,” said David Little of Progress Ohio.

“Any discussion that fails to address excesses in that budget is failing the American people.”

Little added that it was possible to support the troops and veterans without spending billions on pointless wars.

Butler County attorney and Navy veteran Bruce Carter said the military can be more efficient in what he called the changing mission.

“When you refuse to have a discussion on over half of the budget, that’s like trying to tell the Bengals to win a game without going over the 50 yard line,” he said.

The group had a letter to deliver to Boehner, which contained what they called a statement of principles.

“We believe in a holistic approach to the budget crisis, and in order to protect the middle-class, cuts to the Pentagon need to be at the forefront,” the letter states. “We understand that Pentagon cuts are a controversial issue, however, Pentagon cuts in the sequester do not threaten our national security.”

The letter suggests that some of the money currently being spent on the Defense Department goes to providing services for veterans.

The military accounted for about 52 percent — or $600 billion — of discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.

In contrast, education, training and social services collectively made up 9 percent of the budget.

The group of four activists weren’t allowed into Boehner’s office, but a young staffer met them outside. He said that the speaker thought everything should be on the table when it came to budget cuts.

by German Lopez 11.13.2012
Posted In: Budget, News, Economy, Education, Environment at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

State budget cuts hit counties, food deserts in Cincinnati, area's nuclear weapons legacy

A new report from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio shows the impact of state budget cuts on individual counties. Statewide, more than $1 billion in tax reimbursements and the Local Government Fund was cut between the 2010-2011 budget, which was passed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, and the 2012-2013 budget, which was passed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. Additionally, Ohio’s estate tax — a tax that affected only 8 percent of Ohioans, largely those at top income levels — was eliminated, killing off a crucial source of funding. Hamilton County, its jurisdiction, schools, services and levies lost $222.1 million. Health and human services lost $23.2 million. Children’s services lost $4.6 million, and the county children’s agency services “was sent into financial crisis.” In total, more than 5,000 local government jobs were lost in the area.

The Center for Closing the Health Gap is launching a campaign to raise awareness about food deserts in Cincinnati. Food deserts are areas, particularly neighborhoods, where full-service grocery stores aren’t readily available to residents. The campaign hopes to raise awareness and funding to combat the food deserts in the Cincinnati area. With a funding target of $15 million, the organization plans to help build smaller stores with close ties to the local communities.

A new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital resurfaced Greater Cincinnati’s nuclear weapons legacy. Between the 1950s and 1980s, residents of nearby farm communities were unaware they were being exposed to radioactive materials in the air, water and soil from a Cold War era nuclear weapons plant, located 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati. Apparently, the exposure has led to higher rates of systemic lupus in the area.

Greater Cincinnati’s economic recovery could be slowed or boosted by policy, but it will outpace the nation’s economic recovery, according to local economists. Still, the economists caution that there is a lot of uncertainty due to oil prices, the fiscal cliff — a series of tax hikes and budget cuts scheduled to be made at the start of 2013 if U.S. Congress doesn’t act — and the fiscal crisis in Europe.

Cincinnati’s small businesses are more upbeat about the economy. Eleven percent of local family firms expect the economy to improve, but whether that translates to business expansions remains to be seen.

CityLink Center is scheduled to open today. The initial plans for the facility sought to help the homeless with health services, overnight shelter, food, temporary housing and child care. At one point, the center’s opening was threatened due to legal challenges regarding zoning.

Hostess, maker of Twinkies, says it will close down three bakeries, including one in Cincinnati, due to a national strike. According to reports, union workers walked off the job after a new contract cut their wages and benefits. Hostess insists the factory shutdowns will not affect customers.

Top Cincinnati mortgage lenders saw double-digit increases between Sept. 1, 2011 and Aug. 30, 2012. The rise is yet another positive sign for the housing market, which collapsed during the latest financial crisis and recession.

The state agency in charge of higher education released a report highlighting 20 recommendations to improve degree completion in Ohio. Some of the recommendations from the Board of Regents: Adopt more uniform statewide rules regarding college completion and career readiness, push stronger collaboration and alignment in education from preschool through senior year in college, establish a new system of high school assessment to improve readiness for college, and improve flexibility. The board will attempt to turn the report into reality in cooperation with university and state officials.

Too much school choice may be a bad thing. A new study found Ohio’s varied education system, which offers vouchers for private schools and charter schools as alternatives to a traditional public school, may have passed “a point where choice actually becomes detrimental to overall academic performance.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) issued an action alert on Saturday telling members to oppose privatizing the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio state government, led by Kasich, is currently studying possible plans to privatize the turnpike. In a video, an OFB member argues the current turnpike management is fine.

There are still some undecided seats in the Ohio legislature from the Nov. 6 election.

Once again, a reminder not to drive on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus.

Former George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes says she will “cut out” the tongue of Republican men making “Neanderthal comments” about rape.

A new way to fight bacteria: coat it with a thin layer of mucus.

by German Lopez 06.24.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Streetcar Project to Move Forward

Council measures increase capital funding, require more transparency

The streetcar project remains on track following today's votes by City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that aim to keep the public informed on the project's progress.

The increased funding was previously proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney to fix a $17.4 million budget gap. The money will come from more issued debt and pulled funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. Under state law, none of the capital funding could be used for operating budget expenses, such as police and fire.

The accountability measures also require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

"The progress reports should be easy-to-understand and made available online to ensure transparency and accountability to City Council and to citizens," the motion reads.

Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she abstained from voting on the motion imposing accountability measures.

Qualls, who revealed the accountability measures in a press conference prior to today's committee meeting, said the measures will move the streetcar forward and help keep the public informed.

"I will vote today to continue the streetcar project because we need to continue moving Cincinnati forward," she said. "At the same time, while I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a reboot on the project to instill public confidence in its management."

Smitherman did not seem convinced.

"I believe the administration will be back asking for more money on the streetcar," he claimed, pointing to pending litigation with Duke Energy over who is legally obligated to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate the project.

Smitherman and Sittenfeld also criticized their colleagues for not bringing the accountability measures to a vote earlier in the process.

"You would think seven years ago there would have been a motion like this in front of us," Smitherman said, referencing when City Council first approved the streetcar project.

Among the accountability motion's items is an operating plan, which streetcar critics have long demanded.

The city administration estimates operating the streetcar will cost about $3.5 million a year, indicating in the past that casino tax revenue would be used to pay for the costs.

Supporters say those costs will be outweighed by the city's estimated three-to-one return on investment for the streetcar project — an estimate backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati.

Simpson in particular argued the costs will be made up through increased revenue as the streetcar brings in more businesses and residents to Cincinnati.

Still, Simpson says those estimates don't matter to streetcar opponents.

"If it was $5, there would be individuals who don't support this project," she said.

Winburn responded by saying he supports the streetcar as a concept, which roused laughter from streetcar supporters in the audience. Throughout the project's many hearings, opponents of the streetcar have often said they support streetcars as a concept — at least until they have to put their support to a vote or commit funding.

Still, Winburn added, "Even if you all are wrong, I want to commend you for fighting for what you believe in."

The streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a result of "errors in bid documents," according to Qualls.

Besides increasing funding, the city is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager of The Banks, to head the streetcar project. Multiple city officials, including Qualls and Quinlivan, have praised Deatrick for his ability to bring down project costs and put large projects on track.

The funding currently set for the streetcar will only go to the first phase of the project. The final plan calls for tracks stretching from The Banks to the Cincinnati Zoo.

"If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing," Dohoney previously told City Council. "The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that."

But Smitherman says talk of another phase is financially irresponsible: "I want to indicate to the public that they (the city administration) don't have a budget for the second leg."

The funding ordinance and accountability motion must now be approved by a full session of City Council, which has the same voting make-up as the Budget and Finance Committee.

If it's approved, the federal government has committed another $5 million to the streetcar that will help restore certain aspects of the project previously cut because of budget concerns.

by German Lopez 04.22.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Budget, City Council at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Democrats endorse candidates, parking petitions scrutinized, Senate to rework state budget

The Democratic Party’s nominating committee announced who it’s supporting for City Council Friday: Greg Landsman, who heads the Strive Partnership and worked for former Gov. Ted Strickland; Shawn Butler, Mayor Mark Mallory’s director of community affairs; Michelle Dillingham, a community activist; and the six incumbents, which include Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young. The nominations still have to be approved by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee.

Petitioners against the city’s parking plan are supposed to get their final tally on referendum today, but a new video shows at least some of the petitions may have been signed without a legitimate witness, which are needed to validate a signature. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced Thursday that petitioners had met the necessary threshold of 8,522 signatures, but the video casts doubts on whether those signatures were legitimately gathered. The city wants to lease its parking assets to help balance the deficit for the next two years and fund development programs around the city (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but opponents worry higher parking rates and extended hours will harm the local economy. Here is the embedded video:

The Ohio Senate could restore Gov. John Kasich’s tax, school funding and Medicaid plans when it votes on the biennium budget for 2014 and 2015. Kasich’s tax and education funding plans were criticized by Democrats and progressive groups for favoring the wealthy, but the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would expand Medicaid coverage to 456,000 low-income Ohioans and save the state money, was mostly opposed by state Republicans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.

New polling from Quinnipiac University found a plurality of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage rights — granting promising prospects to Freedom Ohio’s ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year.

An audit on JobsOhio could take months, according to State Auditor Dave Yost’s office. Gov. John Kasich was initially resistant to a full audit, but Yost eventually won out, getting full access to JobsOhio’s financial records. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that is meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.

In response to not getting a Democratic endorsement for his City Council campaign, Mike Moroski, who was fired from his job at Purcell Marian High School for supporting gay marriage, launched the Human Party.

Cincinnati received an “F” for business friendliness in the 2013 Thumbtack.com U.S. Small Business Friendliness Survey from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Embattled attorney Stan Chesley will no longer practice law in Ohio. Chesley, who has been criticized for alleged misconduct, was recently disbarred in Kentucky. He recently resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to in a letter from fellow board members.

Ohio gas prices are shooting back up.

PopSci has an infographic showing sharks should be much more scared of humans than humans should be afraid of sharks.