CityBeat Blogs - Budget http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-214.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.

Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”

Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.

Commentary:Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.

Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.

Kathy Wilson:Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.

At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Headline:Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”

“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

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

About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program. While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.

With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels, Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau established the organization to reach out to national journalists and continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years. “Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work for companies based here.”

The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and chemicals alone. . The rest of the costs come through increased snow plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy salt when it’s cheap.

Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.

The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.

Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.

Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.

There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls asleep.

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<![CDATA[Acting City Manager Shakes Up Leadership Positions]]> Cincinnati’s city manager, law and budget offices will see major shakeups in the coming months, the city administration announced Tuesday, and one of the new hires is a former city retiree who might tap into his pension while receiving a salary from the city.

Bill Moller is a city retiree who will be eligible to “double dip” into his pension and a city salary ($147,000 a year) when the city rehires him in February to fill an opening for assistant city manager, city spokesperson Meg Olberding confirmed in an email to CityBeat. Whether he does is entirely up to the interim city manager, Olberding wrote.

The possibility could draw criticism from city officials looking to balance Cincinnati’s structurally imbalanced operating budget. Last year, City Council drew opposition for its decision to hire Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick and allow him to double dip on his pension and a city salary.

Update: Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at Wednesdays full council meeting, instead of a special session on Thursday as originally planned.

Moller will eventually replace Assistant City Manager David Holmes, who helped oversee efforts for The Banks and 2012 World Choir Games and filed to retire on April 1, Interim City Manager Scott Stiles wrote in a memo to City Council and the mayor.

“At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller has that experience,” Stiles wrote, noting Moller’s budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington.

City Solicitor John Curp will also leave his current position to instead act as chief counsel for the city’s two utilities, the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works.

“The utility has been undergoing a merger of back office functions to save ratepayers money, and also has been expanding services and service areas to decrease costs,” Stiles wrote. John (Curp) has the private sector experience to assist the utilities with a market-oriented approach, and is uniquely positioned to understand both the particulars of MSD and GCWW as well as the areas in which they can expand.

The move should save ratepayers money by allowing both utilities to rely on Curp instead of outside legal counsel when legal issues arise, according to Stiles.

Although widely praised by city officials, Curp’s move is unsurprising given the politics surrounding Mayor John Cranley’s election. Curp offered legal guidance for the parking privatization plan and streetcar project, both of which Cranley opposes.

Terrence Nestor, currently the city’s chief litigator, will replace Curp as city solicitor until a permanent appointment is made.

Stiles announced other changes as well:

• Markiea Carter, currently a development officer, will move to the city manager’s office to act as assistant to the city manager.

• Karen Alder, currently risk manager for the city, will begin assisting Finance Director Reginald Zeno as the city’s deputy finance director.

Stiles is currently filling as interim city manager while the city conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. Stiles could apply for the permanent role, but his application would need City Council support to win out over other potential candidates.

The city expects the city manager search to last through June, at which point further administrative changes could be expected if the city hires a new permanent city manager.

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

Councilman Charlie Winburn, City Council’s new budget and finance chair, suggested selling the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to help pay for the city’s $870 million unfunded pension liability. But other city officials, including Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and Councilwoman Amy Murray, voiced doubts about the idea, saying it would cost the city annual revenue when there are other options for fixing the pension problem. Meanwhile, the city and state’s retirement boards appear to be looking into what it would take to merge Cincinnati’s pension system into the state system, although that solution could face political and legal hurdles.

A new report from The Imagine Foundation found sex trafficking in the Cincinnati area follows the region’s spine on I-75 from Florency, Ky., to Sharonville, I-275 through Springfield and Fairfield and I-74 to Batesville, Ind. “This is real,” foundation Executive Director Jesse Bach told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “There are women and girls who are being bought and sold for sex in the Cincinnati area. The average person needs to take responsibility for what they might see. To use a sports adage, the average citizen has to be willing to say, ‘Not in our house.’ ”

Gov. John Kasich and other state officials yesterday launched a public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking in Ohio at HumanTrafficking.Ohio.gov. “We may not want to admit it — it’s almost too horrific to imagine — but the fact is that human trafficking is real and is happening across Ohio. Over the past two years we’ve improved our laws to fight trafficking and begin getting victims the help they need, but we must do more,” Kasich said in a statement.

In light of the public awareness campaign, some activists say human trafficking should be addressed by going after the source of demand: men.

The head of the Ohio Department of Youth Services told a federal panel that his agency responded quickly and aggressively to reports of high sexual assault rates at the state’s juvenile-detention facilities. A June report found three of Ohio’s facilities had sexual assault rates of 19 percent or above, with the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility estimated at 30.3 percent — the second highest rate in the nation. Since the report, the agency increased training, hired a full-time employee devoted to the Prison Rape Elimination Act and installed a tip line for prisoners, their families and staffers, according to Director Harvey Reed.

A northern Kentucky man was the first flu death of the season, prompting some tips from the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

Some national Democrats see Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld as a potential congressional candidate in 2022, assuming the next round of redistricting makes the First Congressional District more competitive for Democrats. The district used to be fairly moderate, but state Republicans redrew it to include Republican stronghold Warren County in the last round of redistricting.

Billions of health-care dollars helped sustain Cincinnati’s economy during the latest economic downturn, a new study found.

Downtown traffic came to a crawl this morning after burst pipes sent water gushing out of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel.

The U.S. economy added a measly 74,000 jobs in December in a particularly weak end to 2013.

Dayton Daily News: “Five things you need to know about butt selfies.”

If the law catches up, robot ships could soon become reality.

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

More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community provided more assurances.

Other streetcar news:
• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected tomorrow.
• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.”
• The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.

Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking taxes or cutting police and firefighters.

The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.

A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.

Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups and small businesses.

This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.

Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.

Two won the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.

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

In what could be another chance of survival for the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley on Thursday announced he's willing to continue the project if private contributors cover annual operating expenses that would hit an already-strained operating budget. Although Cranley gave private-sector leaders and streetcar supporters only one week to get a legally binding plan together, Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation said he is quite confident that private contributors could pull together some assurances for the 30 years in operating expenses in the short time span. The potential operating costs have long been a concern for opponents of the streetcar project, even though supporters insist that they would be more than made up by the economic development spurred by the streetcar.

Commentary: "Cincinnati's Impoverished Continue to be Underserved and Undercovered."

A constitutional review panel seems to agree on a few key points regarding redistricting reform, which could fix a system that's long been abused by politicians on all sides of the aisle to give their political parties an advantage during elections. The panel agreed to create a seven-member board that would redraw Ohio's congressional and legislative districts after the next census is taken in 2020, but it's undecided how much power the minority party should hold on the board. In the last round of redistricting, Republican leaders redrew Ohio's political maps to deemphasize demographics that typically support Democrats and provide stronger spreads for demographics that typically support Republicans. CityBeat covered the issue and its potential impacts in greater detail here.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, was the only federal legislator from the Cincinnati area to approve a budget deal that will avoid the threat of future government shutdowns. The deal replaces some of the controversial, blunt budget cuts known as "sequestration" with revenue from hiked fees and savings from cuts elsewhere. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both Republicans from Cincinnati, voted against the deal because it makes cuts over a long period of time. But many economists agree long-term cuts are necessary to avoid the negative effects of budget cuts on today's already-weak economy. The Washington Post ran through the budget deal in further detail here.

Weigh in on the Eastern Corridor project here.

An Ohio House bill would eliminate the license requirement for carrying a concealed handgun in the state.

Health Care Access Now, which helps low-income people in Ohio and Kentucky get health care, obtained a $600,000 grant that could reach 4,500 more patients in the Cincinnati area.

Drug abusers might be intentionally injuring their pets to obtain painkillers.

Expect more snow tonight, according to The Weather Channel.

The University of Cincinnati filed a lawsuit against Crayola that claims the toy company uses technology invented and patented by UC without the university's permission.

A former Miami University president is now warning of the potential issues caused by recruiting too many wealthy, out-of-state students.

A public memorial will be held for William Mallory Sr., a prominent local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory's father, at the Cincinnati Museum Center on Sunday. RSVP here.

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation received a $1.5 million gift from the Anderson Foundation to underwrite the pavilion in Smale Riverfront Park.

A climatologist argues nuclear power is the only way to curb global warming.

Scientists created a pen that allows doctors to 3-D print bones right onto patients.

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

It’s Election Day. Polls will remain open today until 7:30 p.m. Find your voting location here. Check out CityBeat’s election coverage and endorsements here. Regardless of who you plan to support, go vote. The results will decide who runs Cincinnati for the next four years.

A gathering in Covington, Ky. over the Brent Spence Bridge signaled the community is still divided about using tolls to pay for the $2.5 billion bridge project, even as public officials admit tolls are most likely necessary to complete the project. Many local and state officials believe the federal government should pay for the interstate bridge, but they’re also pessimistic about the chances of receiving federal funds. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran says she’s concerned about safety at the functionally obsolete bridge, but she says tolls could have a negative impact on Covington.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote on an annual budget that nearly matches the county administrator’s original proposal. The budget is the first time in six years that county officials don’t have to carry out major cuts or layoffs to close a gap.

A study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and three other community organizations found idling school bus and car motors might pose a serious health risk to students. The most problematic pollutants are particularly concentrated when cars and buses are standing, and the toxic particles linger around schools and playgrounds for hours after the vehicles leave, according to the study. For researchers, the findings are evidence buses and cars should turn off their motors when dropping off children at school.

The Cincinnati Enquirer and other major newspapers lost thousands of readers in the past year, even though some newspapers managed to buck the trend and gain in certain categories, according to a circulation audit from the Alliance for Audited Media. Between September 2012 and September 2013, The Enquirer’s circulation dropped by more than 10 percent, while The Toledo Blade and Dayton Daily News increased their circulation. The drop coincides with readers resorting to the Internet and other alternate sources in the past few years. The losses have cost newspapers advertising revenue, and many have responded with cutbacks in staff and overall news coverage.

More than half a million Ohioans qualify for tax subsidies under Obamacare, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Anyone between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four, is eligible. But for Ohioans to take full advantage of the benefits, the federal government will first need to fix HealthCare.gov, which has been mired in technical problems since its launch on Oct. 1.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was one of seven Republicans to support a federal ban on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Senate yesterday. All Senate Democrats backed the bill. But the bill faces grim prospects in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s expected to fail. CityBeat covered state-level efforts to ban workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT individuals in further detail here.

Mitt Romney’s code name for Portman, a potential running mate for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket, was Filet-O-Fish.

One in five sun-like stars host Earth-like planets.

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

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Congress last night voted to end a partial government shutdown that lasted for more than two weeks and avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. In the end, House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner and local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, got less than nothing for their threats of default and shutdown: Obamacare wasn’t repealed or delayed, taxes weren’t cut and federal spending remained flat. Instead, Republicans were left with the worst polling results Gallup measured for either political party since it began asking the question in 1992. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats got the clean budget and debt ceiling bills they were asking for all along. But the funding measures only last until Jan. 15 and the debt ceiling increase remains until Feb. 7, leaving some groups on both sides of the aisle to ask whether the dramatic showdown will happen all over again in a few months.

Four local homeless sued Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil over his attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time. Homeless advocates argue the policy punishes homeless people for being homeless; they say the county should focus on creating jobs and housing opportunities, not arresting people who are just trying to find a safe spot to sleep. But the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office says it’s addressing a public health issue; Major Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.

In the ongoing legal battle for the Emery Theatre, the Requiem Project amended its lawsuit against the University of Cincinnati and lessees and asked the courts to remove UC from ownership of the building. Requiem argues UC has failed to live up to the goals of Mary Emery’s charitable trust by allowing the building to fall into disrepair and non-use over the years. Courts originally approved the development of apartments in the building as long as the profits went toward renovating the theater, but after 14 years apartment operators say there are multiple mortgages on the property and no profits. The trial is scheduled for February.

Commentary: “Governor Finally Accepts Federal Funds.”

Now in print: Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running for mayor against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, rejected support from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), and the conservative organization’s history of anti-LGBT causes helps explain why.

Qualls scored higher across the board than Cranley in the scorecard released today by the African-American Chamber of Commerce. Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University, previously told CityBeat that the black vote will likely decide the mayoral election. Council candidates Charlie Winburn, P.G. Sittenfeld, Vanessa White, Yvette Simpson, David Mann and Pam Thomas also topped the scorecard.

Ohio House Republicans may sue Gov. John Kasich for his decision to bypass the legislature and instead get approval from a seven-member legislative panel for the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would use Obamacare dollars to extend eligibility for the government-run health insurance program to more low-income Ohioans for at least two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. CityBeat covered Kasich’s decision in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the Ohio House and Senate are debating three different ways to approach an overhaul of Medicaid and bring the program’s costs down. State Rep. Barbara Sears’ bill pushes for a swathe of reforms and cost controls, while State Rep. John Becker’s bill aims to significantly weaken the program to the absolute minimums required by the federal government. Becker’s proposal would likely leave hundreds of thousands of low-income Ohioans without health insurance.

Speaking in Cincinnati yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the federal government is working to correct the many errors plaguing Obamacare’s online marketplaces. The glitches and traffic overload have made HealthCare.gov, which acts as Obamacare’s shopping portal for Ohio and 35 other states, practically unusable for most Americans since the website launched on Oct. 1.

Ohio’s prison agency reassigned the warden and second-in-command at the Correctional Reception Center weeks after Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was found dead in his cell.

A 20-year-old woman is expected to recover after her car crashed into a Winton Hills building while she overdosed on heroin, according to Cincinnati police.

Cincinnati is the only Ohio city to make Livability.com’s top 100 places to live.

Headline: “Bad sperm? Drop the bacon.”

A new study argues ancient climate change led early humans to adapt and evolve.

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<![CDATA[ACLU Sues Ohio Over Anti-Abortion Restrictions]]>

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio on Wednesday announced it is suing the state of Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions enacted as part of the 2014-2015 state budget.

“To put it simply, none of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill,” said Susan Scheutzow, ACLU cooperating attorney and partner at the law firm of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, in a statement. “This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy; the single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations.”

The lawsuit claims the restrictions violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. In the case of the budget, the ACLU argues that the law shouldn’t go beyond appropriating state funds and tax collection.

The three anti-abortion budget amendments in question ban public hospitals and abortion clinics from making transfer agreements that are required to keep clinics open; order clinics to take government-outlined steps, including showing a patient if a fetal heartbeat is detected, before carrying out an abortion procedure; and create a new “parenting and pregnancy” program that shifts state funds into private organizations that are barred from mentioning abortion services.

“The first two amendments have nothing at all to do with budget appropriations,” said Jessie Hill, ACLU cooperating attorney and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in a statement. “The third is also unconstitutional because it creates and funds an entirely new government program, something that requires stand-alone legislation.”

The ACLU says the lawsuit is about promoting good government that follows the rules, regardless of where any individual stands on the issue of abortion.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Preterm, a women’s health clinic in Cleveland that provides contraception, family planning and abortion services.

One anti-abortion restriction that’s not being sued over: The state budget effectively defunded clinics like Planned Parenthood by deeming their non-abortion services less competitive.

Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved the anti-abortion restrictions with the state budget in June. But Democratic critics say the new rules harshly restrict access to legal abortions protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.

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

CAF USA yesterday unveiled new renderings for Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project. The city has hired CAF to supply five cars, which will have four doors on each side and be capable of moving in both directions on a track. The cars are also completely low-floor, which should make boarding, disembarking and moving around the streetcar easier. John Deatrick, the streetcar project’s executive director, told CityBeat on Thursday that he’s been in regular contact with CAF USA since he joined the project in August, and he expects to really test out the cars once the Over-the-Rhine loop is completed in June 2015.

Hamilton County commissioners unanimously agreed the 2014 budget won’t include tax increases. It’s also the first budget in six years that won’t require major cuts. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman’s budget proposal doesn’t explicitly suggest a tax hike, but it does explain how a sales tax hike could be used to offset other expenditures, such as a cut in property taxes. But commissioners all said they’re opposed to a sales tax hike. Commissioners will likely retool the budget and pass the final version in November.

Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper called on Ohio to restrict access of the state’s facial recognition system to a small group of a couple dozen specially trained law enforcement officers, which would take calls for the system 24/7. Under Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio in June secretly launched a facial recognition program that allows law enforcement to use a photo to search state databases and connect suspects with contact information; previously, searching the databases required a name or address. In his defense, DeWine claimed the system is vital for law enforcement and widely used across the country. But an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer found Ohio’s system grants access to thousands more officials than other states’ systems.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections began a hearing yesterday on whether Randy Simes, owner of UrbanCincy.com, can vote in Cincinnati after living in Chicago and moving to South Korea. Simes registered to vote in the mayoral primary election through Travis Estell’s address, where Simes says he stays when he’s in town. Simes’ supporters say the conservative groups behind the hearing are attacking him for political purposes because he supports the streetcar project and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls for mayor, both of which the groups oppose. The attorney for the conservative groups said that he doesn’t want voting “treated as a game.” Some members of the board of elections said they were disturbed by the political undertones of the hearing and a request for emails between Simes and Estell.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday announced voluntary guidelines urging doctors to use caution when prescribing high levels of opioid painkillers for long-term use to patients. The restrictions are in response to a rise in prescription drug abuse and overdoses across the country. Some members of the medical community say they’re concerned the guidelines will lead to temporary disruption in pain care, but others say the kinks should work themselves out in the long term.

Letters from State Treasurer Josh Mandel show he lobbied for Suarez Corp. to seek relief from litigation for the company. The two letters were obtained on Jan. 2 by a federal grand jury that later indicted Benjamin Suarez, owner of Suarez Corp., and Michael Giorgo, chief financial officer of the company, on charges of illegally funneling about $200,000 to Mandel and a Republican congressman’s campaigns in 2011.

Among states and the District of Columbia, WalletHub estimates Ohio is No. 32 most affected by the federal government shutdown. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in greater detail here.

Ohio gave 23 communities $8 million for local infrastructure improvements, but Cincinnati and Hamilton County were not among the recipients.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino held its spot as Ohio’s top-earning casino in September.

Enrollment to Cincinnati State increased despite a statewide decline. The university also received a $2.75 million manufacturing training grant.

Science confirmed that political extremists think they’re always right and everyone else is wrong.

Watch coffee shop customers freak out at a real-life Carrie:

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

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

Reminder: Today is the last day to register to vote in the 2013 mayoral and City Council elections. Since early voting is currently underway, it’s possible to register and vote on the same day. Get a registration form here and find out when and where to vote here.

The federal government shutdown is closing in on its second week. The shutdown has forced some services in Cincinnati to seriously cut back, ranging from Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety inspections to small business loans. CityBeat covered the shutdown and the local leaders involved in further detail here.

City Council candidates met at a forum on Oct. 5 to discuss their different visions for the city’s future. The candidates agreed Cincinnati is moving forward, but they generally agreed that the city needs to carry its current economic growth from downtown and Over-the-Rhine to all 52 neighborhoods. Participating candidates particularly emphasized public safety and government transparency, while a majority also focused on education partnerships and human services for the poor and homeless, which have been funded below council’s goals since 2004. The forum was hosted by The Greenwich in Walnut Hills and sponsored by CityBeat and the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area. Check out CityBeat’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of the forum here.

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman plans to propose a quarter-cent hike of the county sales tax to pay for lower property taxes, the elimination of permit and inspection fees paid by businesses, or the construction of a new coroner’s lab and addition of nearly 300 jail beds, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Hamilton County’s sales tax is currently 6.75 percent, which is lower than 65 of Ohio’s 88 counties. Sigman says the plan would refocus the county and allow it “to transition from a posture of where to cut to where to invest.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach agreed to pay more than $1,200 to dismiss a lawsuit from an anti-tax group that would have cost the city $30,000. Seelbach’s payment reimburses the city for a trip he took to Washington, D.C., to receive the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award for his accomplishments in protecting Cincinnati’s LGBT community. City officials said the trip also helped Seelbach market Cincinnati and learn what other cities are doing to attract and retain LGBT individuals. The lawsuit was threatened by the hyper-conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims to protect taxpayers from government over-spending and high taxes but simultaneously forces the city to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight off lawsuits.

Starting today, residents must use city-delivered trash carts if they want their garbage picked up. To save space in the carts, city officials are advising recycling. If city workers didn’t deliver a trash cart to your home, contact them here.

A bill in the Ohio legislature would ban licensed counselors from attempting to change a youth’s sexual orientation. The practice, known as “conversion therapy,” is widely perceived as unscientific and psychologically damaging and demeaning. California and New Jersey banned conversion therapies in the past year.

Ohio’s legislative leaders on Friday promised to make a Medicaid overhaul a focus of the ongoing fall session. It’s so far unclear what exactly the overhaul will involve. Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature has refused to take up a federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would expand eligibility for the federal-state health care program to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio estimates the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans, and it’s supported by Gov. John Kasich. But Republican legislators are skeptical of expanding a government-run health care program and claim the federal government wouldn’t be able to meet its obligations to the program, even though the federal government has met its payments since Medicaid was created in 1965.

Although insurance plans in Obamacare’s online marketplace (HealthCare.gov) offer lower premiums, the reduced prices come with less options for doctors and hospitals. But supporters argue some health care coverage is better than no health care coverage.

The Ohio branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the country, today announced a slate of Democratic endorsements for state offices, including Ed FitzGerald for governor, David Pepper for attorney general, Nina Turner for secretary of state, Connie Pillich for treasurer and John Patrick Carney for auditor.

A registry helps connect University of Cincinnati Medical Center researchers with people with a personal or family history of breast cancer. About 5,600 people are currently on the list, which researchers can tap into to collect data or solicit individuals for studies.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is investing its single largest contribution ever on treatments for mental health and behavioral issues.

Ohio gas prices dipped further this week.

A grandfather chastised his daughter in a letter for kicking out his gay grandson: “He was born this way and didn't choose it more than he being left-handed. You, however, have made a choice of being hurtful, narrow-minded and backward. So while we are in the business of disowning children, I think I'll take this moment to say goodbye to you.”

Designing an anti-poaching drone could earn someone $25,000.

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

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

The federal government shut down today for the first time in 17 years after House Republicans, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, refused to pass a budget bill that didn’t repeal, delay or otherwise weaken Obamacare, the controversial health care law that Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama strongly support. Federal law requires government agencies to largely shut down and furlough non-essential employees if lawmakers fail to pass a budget that funds government services. The showdown is the latest in Republican efforts to repeal or weaken the president’s signature health care law. Republicans claim Obamacare is an example of government overreach that burdens the economy, while Democrats say the law will help millions of Americans receive health insurance and clamp down on rising health care costs.

Mayor Mark Mallory and other community leaders yesterday jumpstarted a six-month effort to get as many people signed up for Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which opened for enrollment today at www.healthcare.gov. At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and $45,960, will be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest. Various local groups, including the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Freestore Foodbank, will participate in the outreach campaigns, which will attempt to enroll as many Ohioans as possible despite Republican legislators’ attempts to obstruct the efforts.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says she would pick Councilman Wendell Young as her vice mayor if she’s elected mayor this November and Young wins re-election. Qualls is running for mayor against fellow Democrat and ex-Councilman John Cranley. Although Qualls and Cranley agree on a host of issues, they are completely divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The issues took much of the spotlight during the first post-primary mayoral debate.

Ohio and Ky. officials say they expect to break ground on the Brent Spence Bridge project in 2015, but no funding plan is yet in place. Officials agree tolling will be part of funding the $2.5-billion project, but motor fuel taxes, subsidies and a loan from the federal government could also play a role. The project is nationally recognized as necessary because of the current bridge’s deteriorating condition.

The Cincinnati Reds set an attendance record this season.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still extremely sure humans are causing global warming.

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

Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner, Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.

Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city, which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10 years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup.

City Council yesterday unanimously rejected restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but council members called the restorations out of touch.

The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth.

The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to avoid litigation.

Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature.

Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here.

Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014 ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money.

Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents.

The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge.

The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin.

A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.”

Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.

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<![CDATA[Council Denies Car Allowances, Other Budget Restorations]]>

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously stripped budget restorations that would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members.

“It seems disingenuous that we would restore funding to the top earners in our city for car allowances and cost-saving days and also show, as we did last June, that we are willing to make sacrifices along with our employees,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said at the committee meeting. “When we ask people not to take a raise for five years or to not take a car allowance, it’s important for us to also make sacrifices.”

Seelbach added that he hopes City Council’s decision will send “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.”

The city previously eliminated some paid work days and car allowances as part of broader cuts to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops or firefighters. But City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 asked council members to use higher-than-projected revenues to undo $6.7 million in cuts, including $26,640 in car allowances for city directors, $18,000 in council members office budgets and $26,200 in paid work days for council members and the mayor.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat on Friday that restoring the car allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness. She said the car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she added, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.

But some council members, particularly Seelbach, called the restorations out of touch.

“I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” Seelbach told CityBeat on Friday. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”

The City Council motions passed on Tuesday remove the provisions for car allowances, paid work days and City Council office budgets but keep earlier proposals from council members, including restorations to human services funding and city parks.

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

Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied" childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center, but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.

The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees, such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much less a $5,000 car allowance.

The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.

State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.

The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.

An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.

A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.

Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.

Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.

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<![CDATA[City Administration Defends Car Allowances]]>

Just a few months after the city avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees, City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 proposed restoring $26,640 in vehicle allowances that would subsidize car use for the city manager, the mayor and other director-level positions in the city administration.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat that restoring the allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness.

Olberding says car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she explains, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job.

“Cutting it reneges on their original offer and part of the pretense under which they took the job,” Olberding says, adding that failing to restore the compensation promises could make future potential hires reluctant to work in Cincinnati.

But given Cincinnati’s ongoing budget problems, some council members say the proposal is out of touch.

“Are you kidding me?” asked Councilman Chris Seelbach at the Sept. 16 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “I just question the judgment of an administration that would make that kind of recommendation given our current financial situation. I’m offended that it would be even recommended.”

Even though City Council managed to avoid layoffs in this year’s budget, Cincinnati’s operating budget remains structurally unbalanced, which means the city will have to come up with new revenue or cuts to balance the budget in upcoming years.

Seelbach told CityBeat he doesn’t agree with the competitiveness arguments.

“Im more concerned with the garbage worker whos making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance, he says. If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.”

Still, Olberding points out that city directors often need to drive more than the typical worker, whether it’s to get to public meetings, in case of an emergency or as a natural consequence of being on call 24/7. She says that justifies what she sees as a small cost.

The restoration was tucked into a proposal from the city manager that restores more than $6.7 million in previous cuts by using revenue left over from the previous budget cycle. The car allowance portion is about 0.3 percent of the total proposal and less than one-hundredth of a percent of the city’s overall operating budget.

For some city officials, the issue gets to what they perceive as a disconnect between private individuals and the government: Although thousands of dollars might seem like a lot of money to the typical person, the sum is usually worth much less than a penny on the dollar in city budget terms.

But Seelbach says garbage collectors and other city workers who havent received a raise in years would be thrilled to split $22,000, even if the sum doesnt mean much in total budget terms.

It shows a lack of respect for the people who make this city work,” Seelbach says.

The proposal also comes shortly after a tense budget showdown and in the middle of an election year for City Council and the mayors office.

Dohoney repeatedly said throughout the past year that the city would have to lay off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters, if it didn’t lease its parking meters to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The city ultimately avoided the layoffs without the parking lease by making cuts in various areas, including the city’s parks, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues, but the city is still pursuing the lease to pay for economic development projects.

City Council will take up the restoration measures at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24.

Updated at 4:09 p.m. with comments from Councilman Chris Seelbach.

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