Here at CityBeat, we cover a lot of budget hearings, and they can very easily wear us down with their partisan squabbles and monotonous focus on details that everyone will forget about in a week or so.
Right now, we're watching the Ohio Senate budget hearings, which have so far involved Democrats repeatedly bringing up amendments only to get them shot down by the Republican majority. Very repetitive, very boring.
Thankfully, the Internet has given us the chance to take what we like to call "cat breaks." This video — arguably the greatest thing in the entire Internet — is the latest example:
We encourage you to do the same while you're at work. If your employer ever questions the practice, just point him or her to the study that found looking at cute animals actually boosts productivity.
The Ohio Senate's budget plan for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 would restore about $717 million in education funding, but the gains wouldn't be enough to outweigh $1.8 billion in education cuts from the 2012-2013 budget, which was approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in 2011.
The bill would also favor the state's property-wealthiest districts, which can already raise more money for local schools by leveraging their massive local property values.
About 85 percent of the wealthiest school districts will get funding increases, while 40 percent of the poorest rural districts receive no increases, according to Stephen Dyer, a former Democratic state representative and an education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio.
Dyer put the regressive breakdown in chart form in a blog post:
The chart shows the bottom one-third of school districts only get about 15 percent of the increases, while the top one-third are getting a vast majority of the increases.
Still, Dyer points out that the budget is increasing funding for urban, high-poverty areas, while rural areas are generally getting the smallest increases.
The budget would also include $250 million in one-time money for the Straight A Fund, which is supposed to entice innovation at schools around the state. When the program was first proposed in Kasich's budget plan, the Kasich administration asked for $300 million.
Even with the Straight A Fund, the funding increases wouldn't be enough to overcome $1.8 billion in cuts in the last biennium budget, which is a previous estimate from progressive think tanks Policy Matters Ohio and Innovation Ohio that includes tax reimbursements for tangible personal property and public utility property, federal stimulus funds and state aid to schools.
Many school districts have coped with the cuts through local tax levies, which Innovation Ohio previously compared to a $1.1 billion tax increase across the state.
In 2012, Cincinnati Public Schools was one of the many school districts to successfully pass a levy after dealing with years of cuts from multiple levels of government ("Battered But Not Broken," issue of Oct. 3).
The changes proposed by the Ohio legislature are the latest in a chain of attempts to reform the state's school funding formula, which has a history of legal and political problems.
Between 1997 and 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court issued four decisions that found the state's school funding formula unconstitutional because it relied too much on property taxes and failed to provide "a thorough and efficient system of common schools."
But 16 years later, critics argue the system still relies too much on property taxes. According to them, the reliance on property taxes drives inequality because property-wealthy areas can more easily leverage their high property values to fund good schools, while property-poor areas are generally left behind.
Kasich attempted to address the issues with his own rework of the education funding formula, but the rework was dismissed by the Ohio House and Senate — a victory for critics who deemed Kasich's plan regressive ("Smoke and Mirrors," issue of Feb. 20).
The Ohio legislature and Kasich must approve a budget plan by June 30.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved a Mill Creek sewer overhaul plan that includes bringing back a long-buried creek in the area. The unconventional strategy is the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD) attempt at dealing with storm overflow in a green, sustainable manner that also saves taxpayers money — particularly in comparison to an expensive deep underground tunnel that the EPA originally suggested. CityBeat previously covered MSD’s green plans in further detail here.
A law that would ban mandatory union membership is temporarily back on the Ohio House agenda, leaving union advocates worried that Republicans are trying to push the anti-union law, which supporters of the change call “right to work,” once again. Still, lawmakers say they’re only giving the law one hearing as required by House rules for legislation introduced early on in the session. Under current law, employers and unions are allowed to agree to mandating union membership for employees, but the anti-union law would bar that agreement. Many states have already taken up similar laws, and they’ve been linked to a significant decline of unions around the nation.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is partnering with Ohio State Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Kyle Parker to continue the fight against synthetic drugs. In a statement, DeWine’s office said the partnership will help state officials expedite the process of banning synthetic drugs as they are found. “Despite the success of House Bill 334, which outlawed a multitude of synthetic drugs in 2012, rogue chemists continue to create new, dangerous chemicals that fall outside of Ohio's controlled substances law,” DeWine said in a statement.
Cost for vehicle registration in Ohio could go up under a plan being considered by state lawmakers.
Two more alleged voter fraud cases were sent to the county prosecutor. So far, most of the Hamilton County voter fraud cases involve people voting twice — supposedly on accident — by first early voting and then voting on Election Day.
A Gillette commercial is at the center of the most important question of our time: How does Superman shave?
The “cutest couple” at a suburban New York school is two boys.
Being from Ohio may have ruined Neil Armstrong’s most famous quote.
In case you missed it, here is the news section for the latest issue of CityBeat:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s running for re-election in 2014, to veto a bill that will prevent a full audit on JobsOhio, but Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the governor will sign the bill. The bill will define JobsOhio’s liquor profits, which the agency gets from a lease deal with the state government, as private funds, closing the profits to an audit. The bill will also prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican who’s been pursuing an audit of JobsOhio, from looking into private funds in publicly funded agencies. The new limits on state audits could have repercussions beyond JobsOhio, making it more difficult to hold publicly funded agencies accountable. JobsOhio is a private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development.
The Ohio Senate will vote on a budget bill Thursday that continues to push conservative stances on social issues and aims to cut taxes for small businesses. The bill will 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 bill does not cut taxes for most Ohioans, unlike the Ohio House budget bill that cut income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent.
Local Democrats are unlikely to endorse a candidate
in this year’s mayoral race, which will likely be against Democrats
Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Even though both candidates are
Democrats, they have two major policy differences: Qualls supports the streetcar project, while Cranley opposes it. Qualls also supports the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, which Cranley opposes. CityBeat previously did Q&As with Cranley and Qualls.
The parties’ slates of City Council candidates are mostly set. This year, Democrats are running 10 candidates — more than the nine seats available in City Council. Meanwhile, Republicans are running four candidates and the Charter Committee is looking at three potential candidates.
Cincinnati already has some of the cleanest water in the nation, but Water Works is making improvements to its treatments. One new treatment will use an ultraviolet process to kill 99.9 percent of germs.
It’s National Internet Safety Month, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be safe out there.
A 131-year-old historic building in the West End collapsed after a car crashed into it. The driver’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
Ohio State’s president, who’s a Mormon, is in trouble for making fun of Catholics.
Mason and Sophia are Ohio’s most popular baby names.
Dogs are currently the best bomb detectors, but scientists are aiming to do better.
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.
City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.
As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.
Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget.
"The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."
The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.
The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department.
Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated.
Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.
The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.
The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a 50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special events.
At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget.
"I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.
Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of control."
Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.
Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.
The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months
of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to
be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway.
But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.
Since Ohio sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), prisoner accounts and independent audits have found deteriorating conditions at the minimum- and medium-security facility. In the past few months, prisoners detailed unsanitary conditions and rising violence at the prison, which were later confirmed by official incident reports and a surprise inspection from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling on the state to do more to hold CCA accountable. To read the full story, click here.
A Northern Kentucky lawsuit backed by the tea party is threatening library funding across the state. The problems get into the specifics of Kentucky’s tax code, potentially unraveling the entire library system by forcing the state’s libraries to get voter approval before increasing or decreasing taxes. If the courts rule against the libraries, the libraries could have to set their tax rates back to levels from decades ago, leading to considerably less funding for the public institutions.
City Council is set to approve a budget plan today that will avoid laying off cops and firefighters, but it will make considerable cuts to many other city programs, increase fees for various services and raise property taxes. The public safety layoffs were averted despite months of threats from city officials that such layoffs couldn’t be avoided without the city’s plan to semi-privatize parking assets. But the parking plan is being held up in court, and City Council managed to avoid the public safety layoffs anyway.
A budget bill from the Ohio Senate would keep social issues at the forefront and refocus tax reforms on small businesses instead of all Ohioans. The bill 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, while cutting taxes by 50 percent for business owners instead of going through with a 7-percent across-the-board tax cut for all Ohioans.
The Ohio legislature is moving to take away the state auditor’s powers to audit private funds that JobsOhio and other taxpayer-funded private entities take in. State Auditor Dave Yost is looking to do a full audit of JobsOhio that includes private funds, but other Republicans, led by Gov. John Kasich, have pushed back, claiming Yost can only check on public funds. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republican legislators established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
A teacher who was fired from a Catholic school when she got pregnant through artificial insemination when she was single is taking the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati to court, with hearings now underway. The Church’s critics argue that the Vatican’s stance on single pregnant women is discriminatory, since it makes it much easier to enforce anti-premarital sex rules against women than men.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is facing $14.8 million in deficits in its next budget — a sign that years of cuts are continuing at the school district. CPS says the shortfall is driven by state cuts, which CityBeat previously covered in greater detail and how they relate to CPS here.
Hamilton County commissioners are asking Cincinnati to merge its 911 call centers with the county. The change would likely save money for both Cincinnati and Hamilton County, but it remains uncertain how it would affect the effectiveness of 911 services.
Scientists are using yogurt to study how food interacts with the brain.
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To get your questions answered in CityBeat’s Answers Issue, submit your questions here.
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.
The operating budget plan, which passed with an 8-1 vote, comes after months of city officials threatening to lay off cops and firefighters if the city did not approve a plan to lease Cincinnati's parking assets to the Port Authority, which city officials previously claimed was necessary to raise funds that would help balance the operating budget for two years and fund economic development projects. But the parking plan is currently being held up in court, and the public safety layoffs are being avoided anyway.
Last week, council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach announced a budget motion that would avoid all fire layoffs and all but 25 police layoffs. The remaining 25 police layoffs are being undone through the budget motion approved today, which increases estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan did not sign onto the plan, articulating concerns that the budget maneuver will make the deficit worse in 2015 and fail to structurally balance the budget.
Even with the motion, the overall operating budget plan would make cuts elsewhere and raise fees and property taxes. If the plan is approved, about 60 city employees are expected to lose their jobs in the next couple weeks.
The cuts swept through most of the city government, hitting parks, the arts, human services, parades, administrative budgets and outside agencies, among many other areas.
The operating budget portion of the property tax will also climb from 5.7 mills in 2014 to 6.1 mills in 2015, which comes out to an extra $34 for every $100,000 in property value. The latest property tax increase comes after City Council approved a hike in 2013, pushing the property tax from 4.6 mills in 2013 to 5.7 mills in 2014.
The plan would also raise fees for several city services, including fire plan reviews and admission into the Krohn Conservatory.
Multiple council members claimed the austerity was necessary because of the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20).
Still, Lea Eriksen, the city's budget director, previously pointed out Cincinnati has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001.
City Council will vote on the overall budget plan May 30. Council members Qualls, Seelbach, Pam Thomas, Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson are expected to vote in favor of the plan, giving it enough votes to pass City Council.
City Council will vote on a budget plan today that will include no public safety layoffs, but about 60 other public employees will likely be jobless as a result of the plan in a couple weeks. The budget proposal comes after months of city officials claiming public safety layoffs were unavoidable without the city's plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. But the parking plan is now being held up in court, and the layoffs were avoided anyway.
CityBeat commentary: "Good News Reveals Budget Deception."
The Ohio Senate revealed a budget plan yesterday that made some major tax changes to the Ohio House proposal, but the budget will still effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The Ohio Senate plan passes on the Ohio House's 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut for all Ohioans and instead focuses on a 50-percent tax cut for small businesses. The bill also undid controversial language that forced public universities and colleges to decide between out-of-state tuition rates and providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting. CityBeat covered the conservative social policies in the Ohio House budget plan, which remain in the Ohio Senate bill, here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald came out in support of same-sex marriage in a May 17 interview with Outlook Columbus, putting him at odds with Republican opponent and incumbent Gov. John Kasich, who is running for re-election in 2014. Kasich previously implied support for same-sex civil unions in an interview with a local TV news station, but his spokesperson later walked back that support and reiterated the governor's opposition to same-sex civil unions and marriage. Same-sex marriage could be on the ballot in 2013 through FreedomOhio's efforts, which CityBeat covered in greater detail here.
Twenty were arrested yesterday during the Hamilton County Sheriff Department's sex offender compliance sweep.
A University of Cincinnati study found CPR training does little good, and most people do a lousy job at the life-saving technique.
Some Cincinnati businesses are taking more steps to protect their intellectual property rights in light of high rates of intellectual property theft in Asia.
The leader of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce is set to leave.
A new study suggests humans began walking upright because of rock climbing.