CityBeat Blogs - Governor http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-144.html <![CDATA[Lt. Governor Candidate Blasts Kasich's Tax Cut Proposal]]> Lt. Governor-candidate Sharen Neuhardt held a press conference on the City Hall front steps today to lament a tax cut proposed by Gov. John Kasich, claiming that it furthers his agenda to help Ohio’s top 1 percent.

Kasich has proposed to cut income tax 8.5 percent across the board by 2016, which would help drive Ohio’s top tax rate below 5 percent. The governor claims single mothers making $30,000 would save an extra few hundred dollars on taxes every year as part of his proposed tax cut, a claim Neuhardt called “despicable and wrong.”

During the press conference, Neuhardt said Kasich is using the plight of single mothers to propagate a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s upper echelon.

“I want to really emphasize pay equality is always an important issue,” Neuhardt said.

Neuhardt doesn’t have a plan to square the $11,600 pay disparity between genders in 2012 that she cites, but she did say that her administration would need to reverse everything Kasich’s administration has done in order to get Ohio’s economy moving forward, should she and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald, win office in November. 

“We need Ohio’s working class to have money in their pocket,” Neuhardt said.

Kasich’s previous budget took the first steps toward pushing the state’s top tax rate below 5 percent by lowering income tax across the board and raising sales tax, a combination that disproportionately favors the wealthy. CityBeat covered that plan here and Kasich’s early 2013 budget proposals here and here.

Council members P.G. Sittenfield and Yvette Simpson spoke about pay disparity before Neurhardt took the podium on Tuesday.

Simpson stated women on average are earning 27 percent less than men in Ohio and Latin American women are earning 57 percent less.

“In the year 2014, that’s unacceptable,” Simpson said.

She also stated that Cincinnati has a 50-percent single mother rate and that 53 percent of children are living in poverty.

Sittenfield said the way toward eliminating pay disparity is through “meaningful reforms,” not tax cuts.

“Wage equality is not just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue and it’s an Ohio issue,” Sittenfield said.

Kasich proposed the cuts as part of a mid-biennium review intended to lay out administrative goals for next year.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State speech last night, promising to combat Ohio’s heroin epidemic, cut taxes and create jobs across the state. The speech didn’t promise any new, huge proposals; instead, it focused on expanding the approach Kasich has taken to governing Ohio in the past four years. Democrats criticized the speech for failing to note Ohio’s recent economic struggles, with the state now among the worst in the nation for job growth. Meanwhile, a recent analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s proposed tax cut would benefit the wealthy.

Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. The poll found 87 percent of Ohioans now support legalizing marijuana for medical uses, and 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. Meanwhile, half of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not. Whether the widespread support translates to ballot issues remains to be seen. CityBeat covered Ohio’s medical marijuana movement here and same-sex marriage efforts here.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) plans to alleviate parking problems in Over-the-Rhine by adding a parking meter to every parking space in the neighborhood and asking City Council to allow residential parking permits in neighborhoods that mix commercial and residential. (Today, the city code allows residential parking permits only in neighborhoods that are 100 percent residential.) The plan would add 162 metered spaces to the 478 currently metered spaces, and 637 spaces would be designated for residents.

City Council could move to officially dissolve the parking privatization plan as soon as Wednesday. What will replace the plan is still unclear, but CityBeat compared Mayor John Cranley’s proposal to the parking privatization plan here.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell says officers responded appropriately to an incident in which police shot and killed a suspect. Blackwell said police had to respond with deadly force when the suspect came out of his house with a rifle.

Cincinnati-based Kroger could buy supermarket rival Safeway.

An alarming video shows old arctic ice vanishing as a result of global warming, even though old ice is more resistant to melting.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday ruled that the Hamilton County Board of Elections can move to a former hospital site at Mount Airy after the 2016 election, but whether early voting moves along with the Board of Elections needs to be resolved separately. The decision does little to resolve the dispute between local Democrats and Republicans about which location — downtown or Mount Airy — is better for early voters. Democrats argue downtown, as the central hub of local public transportation, best meets the need of most early voters. Republicans argue the Mount Airy facility is closer to the center of the whole county and provides free parking, which Republicans say should make up for the few bus routes that go to the neighborhood.

Gov. John Kasich on Friday signed two controversial election bills that reduce the time allotted for early voting by one week and restrict counties’ ability to send out unsolicited absentee voting applications. The reduction of early voting in particular raised claims of “voter suppression” from Democrats because the bill eliminates the Golden Week in which early voters can register to vote and actually vote on the same day. Republicans say the bills are necessary to establish uniform early voting hours and rules across the state. In general, both sides acknowledge Democrats benefit from more early voting access and Republicans benefit from less early voting access.

Income inequality rose in Ohio between 1979 and 2011, but Ohio fared better than most states, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute and the Economic Analysis and Research Network. Ohio’s top 1 percent make roughly 18.1 times the annual income as the bottom 99 percent. In comparison, the average nationwide rate is 24.4 and the rate in the two worst performing states — New York and Connecticut — is 40.

Contrary to faulty reports from Councilman Charlie Winburn and The Cincinnati Enquirer, the city extensively warned residents about its decision to decertify the flood levee around Lunken Airport. In fact, Winburn in 2010 actually voted in favor of an ordinance that supported the decertification. The decision means residents in the area need to purchase flood insurance.

Mayor John Cranley and other city officials plan to boost minority- and women-owned business contracts through aspirational inclusion goals set between the city and contractors. Since the city can’t force businesses to meet the goals, Cranley acknowledges the city could fail. But contractors who worked on the Horsehoe Casino said a similar policy was effective in boosting minority rates for that project.

Two people died in Walnut Hills today after a stabbing and police-involved shooting, according to Cincinnati Police.

Cincinnati plans to increase efforts to get more solar panels on city rooftops. A more specific announcement should come in the next few weeks. Just a couple weeks ago, the Solar Foundation ranked Ohio No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs.

Ohio gas prices continued rising this week.

Watch a robot 3-D print with metal here.

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<![CDATA[Report: Kasich's Tax Proposal Favors Wealthy]]>

Gov. John Kasich's income tax proposal would disproportionately favor Ohio's wealthiest, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found.

Specifically, the proposal would on average cut taxes by $2 for the bottom 20 percent of Ohioans, $48 for the middle 20 percent and $2,515 for the top 1 percent.

The proposal "may allow low-income Ohioans to buy a slice of pizza a year, on average," Policy Matters claims. "Middle-income Ohioans could purchase a cheap pizza maker. For the state's most affluent taxpayers, on average it would cover round-trip airfare for two to Italy, with some money left over to pay the hotel bill and buy some real Italian pizza."

Under the model, Kasich's proposal would cut Ohio's income tax rates across the board by 7 percent. The goal is to bring Ohio's top tax rate, which kicks in only for income above $208,500, under 5 percent, as the governor previously proposed.

Although a plurality of Americans oppose tax cuts for the wealthy, Kasich and other Republicans consistently push the tax cuts to help what they call "job creators." In the most recent state budget, Kasich and Republican legislators approved another series of across-the-board tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the state's wealthiest.

In the aftermath, economic indicators from conservative, liberal and nonpartisan analysts show Ohio's economy is consistently among the worst performers in the country.

The story is typical for Ohio: In 2005, the state cut income taxes across the board by 21 percent. Since then, Policy Matters found Ohio to be one of just a dozen states that actually lost jobs.

Other research backs up Policy Matters' findings. In a report analyzing tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found tax cuts for the wealthy aren't correlated with increased economic growth.

"There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth," CRS concluded. "However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."

Meanwhile, Cincinnati's poorest continue to struggle in a vicious cycle of poverty that consumes about 34 percent of the city's population and more than half of the city's children. CityBeat covered poverty and its effects on Cincinnati in greater detail here.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The Ohio Rights Group could get medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this November, but the group first must gather enough petition signatures. Although the campaign has medical research and polling in its favor, it’s also struggled to raise a significant amount of cash to support a statewide campaign. At the same time, many entrepreneurs see the legalization of medical marijuana as inevitable; over the past weekend, Comfy Tree Cannabis Collective held a seminar to advise potential businesses on the inner workings of selling legalized marijuana.

Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel says the county is willing to go to court to fight Cincinnati’s “responsible bidder” rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. The county says the rules are illegal, burden businesses and favor unions. But city officials, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, says the rules help train workers and create local jobs. The rules impose stricter job training requirements on MSD contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.

Larry Ealy, a Dayton-area man, could challenge gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, but the chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party cautions that Ealy consistently fails to gather enough signatures for his election bids. In the past, Ealy attempted to run for various offices in Dayton.

City officials and the Cincinnati Public Schools Board plan to announce a new collaboration today. The initiative intends to align and better implement the city and school district’s shared policy goals. “We want to establish the framework and make sure the right culture is there,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who announced the collaboration, previously told CityBeat. “Then people can do what elected officials are supposed to do: roll up your sleeves and come up with smart, viable policies.”

Following the demolition of the University of Cincinnati’s Wilson Auditorium, it’s unclear what, if anything, will replace the building.

The Ohio Supreme Court reminds state judges that the conditions for jailing people over unpaid fines are limited.

As people turned up the heat to deal with the polar vortex, they also drove gas prices — and future bills — up.

LED lights make cities look cooler on camera.

A new mind-controlled robotic hand comes with a sense of touch.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley yesterday offered free space to the Hamilton County Board of Elections at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep the board’s offices and early voting downtown. The idea comes in the middle of a debate between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether they should move their offices — and early voting — to a Mount Airy facility, where only one bus line runs, to consolidate county services and avoid the cost of rent. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said there won’t be enough occupancy at the Mount Airy location if the Board of Elections decides not to move there. For the county, a certain amount of occupancy must be filled at Mount Airy to financially justify the move and the renovations it would require. Without the move, the county will need to find another location or means to build a new county crime lab.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday refused to announce whether he will actually run against gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, even though he told The Cincinnati Enquirer the day before that he already made a decision. At this point, Portune’s lack of organization and name recognition means his chances of beating FitzGerald are slim to none.

Ohio’s December unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent from 7.4 percent the month before. The amount of employed and unemployed both increased compared to the previous year. The state of the economy could decide this year’s statewide elections, even if state officials aren’t to credit or blame for economic conditions, as CityBeat covered here.

It is perfectly legal to forgive back taxes in Hamilton County. Supporters argue the practice removes a tax burden that likely wasn’t going to get paid anyway, but opponents worry it could be misused and take away revenue from schools and other public services that rely on property taxes.

A Hamilton County court ruled against the legality of automated traffic cameras in Elmwood Place. Officials plan to appeal the ruling.

More than 10,000 Ohioans lost food stamps this month after Gov. John Kasich declined to request a federal waiver for work requirements. Hamilton County officials estimate Kasich’s decision could affect 18,000 food stamp recipients across the county.

A new Ohio House bill delays the transition from the Ohio Graduation Test to new end-of-course exams. The delay aims to provide more time to vet the tests and allow schools to better prepare for the changes.

Local home sales improved by nearly 21 percent during 2013, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport reported 3 percent more passengers and 9 percent more cargo traffic in 2013.

Ohioans spent 5.8 percent more on liquor in 2013 compared to the year before, reaching a new record in yearly purchases of liquor across the state.

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards return this Sunday.

Telling people they slept better than they did improves their performance on math and word association tests.

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<![CDATA[Portune Flounders on Campaign Announcement]]>

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Thursday declined to announce whether he will challenge gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary after all, despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made a decision.

While CityBeat will certainly cover Portune’s announcement once it finally comes, it’s all with the acknowledgement that his chances of getting the Democratic nomination are slim to none. Portune has no credible organization, his name recognition is low outside southwest Ohio and he apparently can’t find a candidate for lieutenant governor, which all gubernatorial candidates must do prior to collecting and filing 1,000 signatures before a February deadline.

The weak indicators surrounding Portune’s campaign help explain why, when asked by reporters, FitzGerald said he’s not worried about Portune.

“I respect him. He’s an elected official. He’s been an elected official for a long time,” FitzGerald said. “I think he’s not being entirely realistic. It’s very difficult to run a legitimate statewide campaign.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern put it more forcefully in his comments to media outlets.

“Every two years, we get excited about the Cincinnati Bengals and Todd Portune talks about running for an office,” he told WVXU.

Still, Portune continues clinging on to his gubernatorial ambitions.

“To end it now would be inconsistent with the message I have given around the state, which is to not give in the diversity,” Portune told The Enquirer. “And while it may appear improbably today… I can’t say it’s impossible.”

In the meantime, FitzGerald will keep running a serious statewide campaign to defeat Republican Gov. John Kasich this November.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

An anti-gentrification organization says development in southern Over-the-Rhine and downtown is leaving out low- and middle-income residents. The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice (TPCEJ) cautions it’s not against development, but it supports policies that would seek to help more people take advantage of the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and downtown, such as more affordable housing, protections for renters’ rights, rent control and the formation of tenants’ unions. The agency behind much of the development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation), says “people tend to over-romanticize what this neighborhood was” and points to some examples of 3CDC-developed affordable housing as evidence the agency is trying to keep the neighborhood mixed-income.

Related: Some studies found gentrification could benefit longtime residents.

A two-hour streetcar pass could cost $1.75, and a 24-hour pass could cost $3.50, according to a new model unveiled yesterday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager. The same model set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight. Under the model, city officials expect 3,000 daily boardings, but Grether cautioned that’s a very conservative estimate and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games.

But the City Council-enforced streetcar delay could cost more than expected after the steel company originally contracted for the $132.8 million project took another job while council members decided the fate of the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick told council the company’s decision could push construction of a maintenance facility by two months if the city doesn’t hire a steel supplier from outside the region.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald yesterday clarified he supports the death penalty, which aligns him with his Republican opponent, incumbent John Kasich, on the issue. FitzGerald’s remark comes after the debate over the death penalty re-ignited in Ohio following the execution of convicted killer and rapist Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die after state officials used a new cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told CityBeat it’s reviewing McGuire’s death, as it does following every execution.

Commentary: “Death Penalty Brings More Costs than Benefits.”

After receiving support from family planning services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, Democrats running for Ohio’s executive offices re-emphasized their support for abortion rights.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce today whether he’ll challenge FitzGerald’s gubernatorial campaign in a Democratic primary. (Update: Despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made up his mind, Portune canceled his announcement and said he has no final decision yet, according to Carl Weiser, politics editor at The Enquirer.)

Hamilton County commissioners showed openness to keeping some early voting downtown even if the county moves its Board of Elections to a Mount Airy facility. Moving the board along with the county’s crime lab would allow commissioners to consolidate government services.

Cincinnati’s economy should grow faster than previously expected, one economist says.

Plan Cincinnati, the city’s master comprehensive plan, won a national planning award. CityBeat previously covered the master plan in further detail here.

Ten major projects worth more than $1.4 billion are in the planning stages or underway in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Ohio meets voting standards set by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan election commission, with the one exception of online voter registration, according to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to combat heroin abuse.

Virtual reality could help people see what gender swaps would be like.

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<![CDATA[FitzGerald Supports Death Penalty]]>

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald on Wednesday told reporters he supports the death penalty — a position that aligns him with his Republican opponent, Gov. John Kasich.

The debate over the death penalty recently re-ignited in Ohio after state officials took 26 minutes to kill Dennis McGuire, a convicted killer and rapist, with a cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. It remains unclear if the drugs prolonged McGuire’s death or if other factors are to blame.

Asked whether the state should place a moratorium on the death penalty in response to the botched execution, FitzGerald said state officials should investigate McGuire’s execution.

“I think they have to go through a very thorough and exhaustive review of how that unfolded and if it can be done in a way that meets the commonly accepted standards,” he responded.

FitzGerald said he based his support for the death penalty on his experiences as a special agent for the FBI and assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

“I understand there’s … legitimate moral concerns about it, and I respect people that have a different opinion on that,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio on Sunday called on Kasich to halt the death penalty following McGuire’s prolonged execution.

McGuire’s family also announced on Friday it would file a lawsuit claiming McGuire’s death constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to carry out five more executions in 2014. It remains unclear if the agency will use the same cocktail of drugs used to kill McGuire.

FitzGerald’s comments, courtesy of Capital Blog:

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<![CDATA[ACLU Calls For End to Death Penalty]]>

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio on Sunday asked Gov. John Kasich to halt the death penalty across the state, following the botched execution of convicted killer Dennis McGuire that reportedly lasted 26 minutes.

McGuire’s prolonged execution, the longest since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999, was carried out on Jan. 16 with a new cocktail of drugs that had never been tried before in the United States. The use of the new drugs came about after Ohio ran out of its previous supplies.

With its letter, the ACLU joined other groups, including Ohioans to Stop Executions, in calling for an end or pause to state-sanctioned killing.

“This is not about Dennis McGuire, his terrible crimes, or the crimes of others who await execution on death row,” reads the ACLU letter. “It is about our duty as a society that sits in judgment of those who are convicted of crimes to treat them humanely and ensure their punishment does not violate the Constitution.”

The letter adds, “We are mere months away from new recommendations from the Ohio Supreme Court Taskforce on the Administration of the Death Penalty that could alter our system for the better. On the eve of monumental changes, along with increasing problems with lethal injection, is not now the time to step back and pause?”

McGuire’s family also announced on Friday it would file a lawsuit claiming his death constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Five more people await execution in Ohio this year, according to the ACLU. It’s unclear whether the state will use the same cocktail of drugs following McGuire’s execution.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald on Friday announced his new running mate: Sharen Neuhardt, a Dayton-area business attorney and twice-failed candidate for Congress. The choice boosts the ticket’s credentials with women and abortion-rights advocates, but it also reinforces support for pro-choice policies that upset many Republicans and conservatives. FitzGerald originally picked State Sen. Eric Kearney as his running mate, but Kearney dropped out of the race after multiple media reports uncovered he owed more than $800,000 in tax debt. CityBeat covered the gubernatorial race and how the economy could play into it in further detail here.

Mayor John Cranley on Friday reiterated his opposition to double dipping, even though he supports hiring an assistant city manager who will take advantage of the practice. Because Bill Moller is a city retiree, he will be eligible to double dip — simultaneously take a salary ($147,000 a year) and pension — when the city hires him in February. Cranley called the practice “abusive” on the campaign trail, but he says it’s up to City Council to pass legislation that prevents it.

Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter on Friday pleaded not guilty to nine felony charges, including accusations of backdating court documents, theft in office and misusing her county credit card. The Ohio Supreme Court on Jan. 10 replaced Hunter until her case is decided. The felony charges are just the latest for the judge, who has been mired in controversy after controversy since before she won her election.

State Rep. Alicia Reece and other activists are pushing an initiative for the November ballot that would embed “voter rights” into the Ohio Constitution. The Democrat-backed constitutional amendment is in direct response to Republican-led attempts to shrink early voting periods and restrict access to the ballot.

A propane gas shortage in some parts of the state led Gov. John Kasich to suspend state and federal laws that keep propane suppliers off the roads on weekends.

State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s failed Senate campaign sold an SUV totaled in March — effectively averting an insurance review that might have clarified the vehicle’s use and insurance status — shortly after questions arose over the continued use of the vehicle months after Mandel’s Senate campaign ended.

Secondhand smoke increases the odds of hospital readmission for children with asthma, according to a study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Google’s smart contact lens could help diabetics.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Ohio's weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich and other Republican incumbents' chances of re-election in 2014, even if they don't deserve the blame for the state of the economy, as some economists claim. For Republican incumbents, the threat is all too real as groups from all sides — left, right and nonpartisan — find the state's economy is failing to live up to the "Ohio miracle" Kasich previously promised. Economists agree state officials often take too much credit for the state of the economy, but political scientists point out that, regardless of who is to blame, the economy is one of the top deciding factors in state elections. For Kasich and other incumbents, it creates a difficult situation: Their influence on the economy might be marginal, but it's all they have to secure re-election.

Despite promising to move on after he failed to permanently halt the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the streetcar in interviews and social media. In a Sunday appearance on Local 12, Cranley threatened to replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to its offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.) The interview, held within weeks of Cranley mocking and arguing with pro-streetcar critics on social media, comes despite Cranley's promises to move on after City Council agreed to continue the project. "As I tell my son when he doesn't get his way, it's time to move on," Cranley said on Dec. 19.

Streetcar track installation will force the busy intersection at Elm and Liberty streets to close between Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. to Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., city officials announced yesterday. One northbound lane will remain open on Elm Street, but traffic heading east and west on Liberty Street will be redirected.

Commentary: "Bengals Loss Reminds of Terrible Stadium Deal."

Police are investigating three homicides in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine this morning.

Construction crews plan to turn the defunct Tower Place mall into Mabley Place, a new parking garage with several retail spaces on the exterior of the first floor. Across Race Street, other developers will turn Pogue's Garage into a 30-story tower with a downtown grocery store, luxury apartments and another garage.

Hamilton County is dedicating a full-time deputy to crack down on semis and other vehicles breaking commercial laws.

Ohio House Republicans' proposal to revamp the state's tax on the oil and gas industry would not produce enough revenue to cut income taxes for most Ohioans, despite previous promises. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the proposal would only allow for a very small 1-percent across-the-board income tax cut.

Ohio's education system received five C's and an A on a private national report card. The state's middle-of-the-pack performance is largely unchanged from last year's score.

The number of underwater residential properties is declining around the nation, but Ohio remains among the top six states worst affected by the housing crisis, according to real estate analysts at RealtyTrac.

The state auditor's new app allows anyone to easily report suspected fraud.

Macy's plans to lay off 2,500 employees and close five stores to cut costs.

Cincinnati Children's is reaching out to to 10,000 children left without a health care provider after several clinics closed.

Ohio drivers can expect lower gas prices in 2014, according to AAA and GasBuddy.com.

A new glue that seals heart defects could provide an alternative to stitches.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A federal judge halted a controversial election law that limited minor political parties’ access to the ballot and ruled that the state must allow minor parties to participate in the primary and general elections in 2014. But by merely agreeing that only the retroactive restrictions for 2014 are too burdensome for minor parties, the judge left room to keep the law intact for elections in 2015 and beyond. Still, the ruling comes as a major victory for the Libertarian Party of Ohio and other minor parties who took to calling the Republican-backed law the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” because it conveniently limited minor parties that are upset with Republican Gov. John Kasich’s support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman broke with most of his fellow Republicans yesterday to help advance federal legislation that would extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. Still, he hinted that he would not support the three-month extension if the $6.4 billion cost isn’t covered by federal spending cuts elsewhere. Without the extension, 128,600 Ohioans could lose unemployment benefits through 2014 even as the state economy shows signs of weakening.

Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen yesterday confirmed she is leaving her high-level city job to take the same job in Long Beach, Calif. Peggy Sandman will fill in for Eriksen while a search for a permanent replacement is held. Eriksen’s announcement comes as a blow to the city but little surprise to political watchers. Shortly before taking office, Mayor John Cranley called Eriksen and other administration officials “incompetent” because of how they handled the $132.8 million streetcar project, even though their estimates for cancellation costs turned out to be mostly on point.

Newsflash: Global warming didn’t stop just because we’re cold now.

The worst of the deep freeze should be over for Ohio.

Cincinnati’s 2013 homicide rate of 25 per 100,000 residents compares to Cleveland at 22, Indianapolis at 14.85, Columbus at 11.24 and Louisville at 8.43.

An Ohio appeals court ruled Cincinnati can change medical benefits for retirees after all.

Construction for the uptown interchange could begin in July and finish in late 2016.

The city announced yesterday that it’s extending its Winter Holiday Trash Amnesty through Jan. 17, which means residents have until then to set out extra trash next to their city-provided trash carts.

Gov. Kasich is asking parents to tell their children about the dangers of drug abuse, as the state works to combat problems with prescription painkillers and heroin.

A Fairfield, Ohio, teacher who was fired for allegedly telling a black student, “We don’t need another black president,” will fight for his job.

Dozens of inmates at the Lebanon Correctional Honor Camp endured frigid conditions Monday evening after one of three furnaces broke, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A Cincinnati-area medical device firm is in a race with some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world to get a painless drug injector on the market.

People are stealing English ferrets used to hunt rabbits.

A survey of brown dwarfs found they’re racked by planet-sized storms of molten iron.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

If it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments, Cincinnati might not face an operating budget gap in 2015. The city has lost roughly $26 million in annual state aid since 2010, according to city officials, while the budget gap for 2015 is estimated at nearly $21 million. The reduction in state aid helps explain why Cincinnati continues dealing with budget gaps after years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes. Still, some council members argue Democratic council members should stop blaming Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature for the city's problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.

Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department yesterday explained the local increase in homicides to City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. Police officials said gang-related activity, particularly activity related to the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade, is to blame for the spike in crime in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati. In particular, it appears disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories led to turf wars and other violent acts. Police also cautioned, "Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature."

The Democratic primary election for governor heated up yesterday after Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune called Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's commitment to blacks "appalling" in an email obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Prominent Democrats at the state and local level responded to the criticisms as more evidence Portune shouldn't continue to run and threaten Democrats' chances of a clean gubernatorial campaign. Portune announced his intention to run last week, despite calls from top Democrats to stay out of the race.

Cold weather led many area schools to close for another day. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

The weather also slowed down streetcar construction.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld: "Five Lessons From Cincinnati's Little Engine That Could."

The Cincinnati Board of Education chose its veteran members to head the school board in 2014.

Cincinnati-based Citigroup, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Humana and U.S. Bank gained perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign's index for gay-friendly companies.

About 34 percent of Ohio third-graders could be held back if they do not improve their scores on the state's reading assessments. The chairs of the Ohio House and Senate's education committees argue the aggressive approach is necessary to improve the state's education outcomes. But the National Association of School Psychologists found grade retention has "deleterious long-term effects" both academically and socially.

Kentucky is spending $32 million for substance abuse treatment to tackle the heroin epidemic.

Ohio Democrats named a new executive director for the state party: Liz Walters. The Silver Lake, Ohio, native began her political career with the Girl Scouts when she worked for the organization as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Typically allies on other issues, liberals and the scientific community disagree on genetically modified crops.

A pill normally taken as a mood stabilizer could help people acquire perfect pitch.

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<![CDATA[State Cuts Contribute to Local Budget Gap]]>

Cincinnati might not be facing an operating budget gap in 2015 if it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments.

Following cuts approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature, Cincinnati officials estimate the city is getting $26 million less in state funding in 2015 than the city did in 2010.

At the same time, the city is facing a $21 million operating budget gap in 2015.

The reduction in state aid helps explain why the local budget gap remains after several years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes.

“It sounds like the city is doing a good job,” said Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach at Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “Where we’re seeing these obstacles is these outside sources.”

Independent Councilman Christopher Smitherman countered that the cuts to the local government fund and the elimination of the estate tax, both of which drove the reduction in state aid, have been known since 2011 and 2012.

“Public policy makers have, in my opinion, continued to make decisions as if those public policy decisions from the governor’s chair or from the state … weren’t in play,” Smitherman said. “This is not new information.”

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn agreed. He said it’s time to stop blaming the governor for the city’s problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.

Still, Winburn acknowledged he would be willing to meet with state officials to bring more revenue back to Cincinnati.

“Maybe Republicans will be willing to meet with a Republican like me and see if we can bring some money back to Cincinnati,” Winburn said.

Republicans at the state level passed cuts to the local government fund as a way to balance the 2012-2013 budget, which faced a projected gap of nearly $8 billion in 2011. They then approved the elimination of the estate tax — often labeled the “death tax” by opponents — in 2012.

But with Ohio’s economy slowly recovering from the Great Recession, the state budget looks to be in much better shape. The 2012-2013 budget ended with a $2 billion surplus because of higher-than-expected revenues.

Ohio Democrats point to the surplus as evidence the Republican-controlled state government could undo the $1 billion in cuts to local government funding. They argue the cuts have hurt local governments and forced cities to slash basic services, including public safety.

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Tea party leader Ted Stevenot won’t run against Gov. John Kasich in a Republican primary after all. The development came just four days after Stevenot announced his candidacy. Stevenot said his decision to pull out had nothing to do with his running mate’s tax problems, which The Columbus Dispatch uncovered shortly after Stevenot announced his intention to run. Stevenot’s withdrawal comes despite building tea party opposition against Kasich over his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion and his unwillingness to support anti-union “right-to-work” legislation.

The debate over same-sex marriage reached the state attorney general’s race Friday when Democratic candidate David Pepper published an online petition calling on Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop the state-sanctioned legal battle against a local gay couple. On Dec. 23, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that state officials must recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates, including the union of Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur. But the state is appealing the ruling. DeWine’s office said it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to appeal Black’s decision. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment whether he advised for or against appeal.

When Pepper and DeWine face off in the November election, same-sex marriage legalization could appear on the ballot as well — despite LGBT groups’ disagreement over the ballot initiative’s timing.

With the parking privatization plan presumably dead, Mayor John Cranley and City Council plan to address what to do with Cincinnati’s lackluster parking system in the next couple months. By all accounts, the system is broken and in need of upgrades. The question is how to fund the upgrades and leverage parking revenue so it can better finance basic services and development projects. When asked whether privatization is still on the table, Cranley says he’s only open to leasing parking garages, not parking meters, to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

Another issue looming for city officials: Their desire to structurally balance the budget without raising taxes or draconian spending cuts. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Frigid weather led area schools to close today, including the region’s public universities. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

Dayton gets a new mayor today.

Ohio was snubbed for a coveted drone testing program, much to the chagrin of state officials who are now touting partisan claims as reasons why.

Ohio gas prices dropped in time for the first full work week of 2014.

A study found no evidence of time travelers on the Internet.

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Ohio and various other states passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than they did in the previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The findings indicate that the latest Republican-backed abortion restrictions, which were passed through Ohio’s two-year state budget last June, were part of a broader trend that’s culminated across the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010. The trend could play a pivotal political role: Ohio Democrats have made their opposition to the abortion restrictions a central part of their campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents who hold top executive offices in the state.

One of the candidates expected to join the tea party ticket in a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich appears to have personal tax problems. Brenda Mack, tea party leader Ted Stevenot’s expected running mate, is linked to nearly $60,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes and penalties, according to government records in Mahoning and Cuyahoga counties analyzed by The Columbus Dispatch. Mack refuses to comment on the tax problems until a Tuesday press conference in which she and Stevenot are expected to officially announce their candidacies for the May 6 primary.

Former Mayor Charlie Luken says he will run for Hamilton County probate judge. The Democratic candidate will likely face off against Republican Ted Winkler, a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge. Luken recently garnered the public spotlight for his support for Mayor John Cranley’s campaign.

Cincinnati’s homicide rate for victims younger than 18 rose to 1 in 7 in 2013 and 2012, up from 1 in 10 from 2000 through 2011, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Four of the juvenile victims were 1-year-old or younger, including a fetus who died after the mother was strangled to death in April.

Four seats on the 19-member Ohio Board of Education remain unfilled, including two seats that have been vacant for months, long past the 30-day deadline Gov. Kasich has under state law to name a replacement. Administration officials said they’re aware of the deadline, but they intend to find the best fit for the position before moving forward with an appointment. “It’s far more important to us to find the right person than putting warm bodies on the board,” Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols told The Columbus Dispatch.

The amount of untested rape kits submitted to Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation exceeded 5,000.

Fewer than 1,000 died last year in traffic crashes across Ohio, the lowest number since the state began keeping track of the fatalities in 1936.

Bill Nye the Science Guy will debate evolution and biblical creationism at northern Kentucky’s Creation Museum on Feb. 4. Evolution is a scientific fact, but Creation Museum leader Ken Ham denies its existence.

Aaron Betsky announced yesterday he will step down as director of the Cincinnati Art Museum. The news follows Betsky’s controversial comments against the streetcar project in ArchitectMagazine.com, which Betsky expanded on in a separate blog post. CityBeat recently interviewed Betsky here.

The Cincinnati Bengals received an extension until 4 p.m. today to sell out tickets for Sunday’s game and avoid a television blackout in the Cincinnati area.

Strange lights sometimes precede earthquakes.

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<![CDATA[Ohio’s Latest Abortion Restrictions Follow Nationwide Trend]]>

Ohio was among various states in the nation that passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than the entire previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Between 2011 and 2013, states passed 205 new restrictions on abortion. Between 2001 and 2010, states passed only 189 new restrictions.

The trend is unsurprising for Ohio, which the Guttmacher Institute says has been “hostile to abortion” since 2000, but the timeline shows a clear shift in state policies around the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010.

Ohio’s latest restrictions were passed last June by Ohio Republicans through the two-year state budget.

Among other restrictions, one measure forces doctors to perform an external ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and tell her if a heartbeat is detected and the statistical probability of the fetus making it to birth.

Ohio and Oklahoma were also the only states in 2013 to pass restrictions on federal funding for family planning providers, the Guttmacher Institute claims.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, insist they don’t use public funds for abortions, instead funding the procedure with the help of private contributions.

But Ohio Republicans, who predominantly oppose abortion rights, went through with the restrictions anyway, ultimately hitting some family planning service providers that don’t even offer abortions.

“Members of the House who have issues with Planned Parenthood have only issues with the abortion services,” Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, told CityBeat last June. “The rest of what Planned Parenthood provides, I imagine they have no issue with whatsoever.”

Ohio Democrats, particularly gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, have made their opposition to the anti-abortion measures part of their campaigns to unseat Gov. John Kasich and other Ohio Republicans who hold top executive positions in the state. But given the Guttmacher Institute’s timeline, reversing the trend could require a radical shift in the state government of the past 14 years.


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Ohio’s leading LGBT groups still disagree whether same-sex marriage should appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but FreedomOhio says it’s continuing with efforts to put the issue to a public vote within a year. The debate could decide when gay couples in Ohio will get the same rights already granted to couples in other states. In its defense, FreedomOhio cites polling that shows its amendment has support from 56 percent of Ohio voters. But that same poll also put Ohioans within the margin of error — 47 percent in favor and 48 percent in opposition — on the general question of same-sex marriage legalization, which other LGBT groups point to as a sign Ohio needs more time before it’s ready.

Clermont County tea party leader Ted Stevenot will mount a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John Kasich. Stevenot has long criticized Kasich for his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which now allows anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to enroll for Medicaid. Stevenot has also called on Kasich to support anti-union legislation commonly known as “right-to-work.”

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s challenge against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is off to a rough start: A former law partner said Portune isn’t “ethically … suited to be governor,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Portune on Monday announced his intent to challenge FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, despite opposition from various state Democrats.

Commentary: “What to Watch in 2014.”

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning, up from a winter weather advisory, for southwest Ohio today between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The region should get 3-5 inches of snow, with most of it coming this morning and early afternoon.

Three new local homeless shelters expect to start construction in 2014.

Eighty local organizations across Ohio, including three in Hamilton County, are receiving more than $26.3 million in state funds for homeless prevention, emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing projects.

The federal government awarded Ohio $10.8 million for getting low-income children health insurance.

Check out The Onion’s best videos of 2013.

Here are the best astronomy and space pictures of 2013, according to Phil Plait of Slate.

Popular Science published its science predictions for 2014.

CityBeat is hiring a full-time associate editor. Click here for more information.

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<![CDATA[Portune Announces Bid for Governor]]>

Democrats face a potential wrinkle in their campaign to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich following Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s announcement Monday that he will run for governor of Ohio.

At a public press conference, Portune said he intends to mount a primary challenge against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who previously looked like the Democrats presumptive nominee.

In justifying his announcement, Portune claimed he had heard “some rumblings” from rank-and-file Democrats to offer more options in the governor’s race.

“This is an honest effort to give Democrats choice,” Portune said.

Some Democrats might appreciate the choice following a scandal that threw FitzGerald’s choice for lieutenant governor, State Sen. Eric Kearney, off the ticket. Kearney withdrew after multiple reports uncovered he and his family owe hundreds of thousands in unpaid taxes.

But much of the Democratic establishment seems to have responded with contempt by portraying Portune’s announcement as an unnecessary hurdle in the 2014 election.

Likening the Democratic primary election to an internal family discussion, Portune denied accusations that a primary campaign would cripple the party’s chances of winning the gubernatorial election.

“Primaries allow you to talk about the issues. They generate momentum,” he said.

Several Democrats took to social media to publicly disapprove of Portune’s announcement.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern tweeted that he’s “excited about our endorsed Democrats,” meaning FitzGerald.

Cincinnati council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld also restated on Twitter that they will support FitzGerald for governor.

“Todd Portune has been a client and someone I've admired for a long time,” Seelbach wrote. “But the last thing we need is a divisive primary.”

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