CityBeat Blogs - Privatization http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-229.html <![CDATA[Court Allows JobsOhio Documents to Remain Secret]]>

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents.

The court argued the Republican-controlled General Assembly largely exempted JobsOhio from public records law and therefore allowed the agency to keep most of its inner workings secret.

The decision was a major loss for advocacy group ProgressOhio, which claims the documents should be on the public record.

The Republican-controlled legislature, with the support of Republican Gov. John Kasich, in 2011 established JobsOhio, a privatized development agency, to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The JobsOhio Board of Directors is chaired by wealthy Ohio businessmen.

Republicans argue JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly foster economic development deals across the state. Democrats say the anti-transparency measures make it far too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it recommends how to spend taxpayer dollars.

An Oct. 23 report criticized JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies around the country for consistently displaying conflicts of interest and other scandalous behavior. The report came from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments.

Kasich previously touted JobsOhio as one of the reasons Ohio’s economy quickly recovered following the Great Recession, but recent indicators show the state’s economy is now slowing down. Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.

Others have more directly questioned the Kasich administration’s claims to success. An Oct. 29 investigation from The Toledo Blade found jobs numbers from the Ohio Development Services Agency are vastly inflated, indicating that the state government isn’t producing nearly as many jobs as it claims.

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

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald selected State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati as his running mate for his bid against Gov. John Kasich in 2014. Although Kasich is widely perceived as a favorite as the incumbent, recent polling found the race is tied. (The poll was commissioned by Ohio Democrats, but the firm behind it was deemed the most accurate national pollster of 2012.)

Republican State Auditor Dave Yost’s long-awaited audit of JobsOhio found no substantial conflicts of interests at the privatized development firm established by Gov. Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the public Ohio Department of Development. But the audit found 113 items totaling nearly $69,000 in inadequately documented expenditures financed through the state’s leased liquor profits and insufficient safeguards to identify potential conflicts of interest. In a statement, John Patrick Carney, the Democratic candidate for state auditor running against Yost in 2014, claimed the audit was a whitewashed attempt that fails to give taxpayers a full accounting of JobsOhio” and touted it as evidence the state auditor’s office needs change. CityBeat previously wrote about criticisms towards JobsOhio in further detail here. (Updated at 10:45 a.m.: Rewrote paragraph to add Carney’s comments.)

The Ohio House yesterday approved sweeping gun legislation that would impose “stand your ground” rules in the state and automatically recognize concealed-carry licenses from other states. “Stand your ground” rules remove a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense when a person is in areas in which he’s lawfully allowed; current Ohio law only removes the duty to retreat when a person is in his home or vehicle. The bill is particularly controversial following Trayvon Martin’s death to George Zimmerman in Florida, where a “stand your ground” law exists but supposedly played a minor role in the trial that let Zimmerman go free. The bill now requires approval from the Ohio Senate and Gov. Kasich to become law.

Commentary: “False Equivalency Confuses Streetcar Debate.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says it opposes new early voting limits that would shorten the in-person early voting period from 35 to 29 days and remove a “golden week” that allows Ohioans to simultaneously register and vote in person. The Ohio Association of Election Officials claims the limits are necessary to establish uniform voting days across all counties without placing too much of a burden on smaller counties. But Democrats claim the limits aim to suppress voters. The Ohio Senate yesterday cleared the new early voting limits, which now require approval from the Ohio House and Gov. Kasich to become law.

If property and business owners along the planned streetcar line sue over the cancellation of the $133 million project, legal experts say they have a very slim chance of winning. The threat of litigation is one of the potential back-up options discussed by streetcar supporters if Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council agree to cancel the project, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Hamilton County commissioners agreed to increase the tax return local property owners will get as part of the deal funding Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park. The deal boosts the rebate to $13 million in 2014, up from $10 million in 2013 but still below the $20.5 million promised to property owners after voters approved a sales tax hike to fund the stadiums. Commissioners estimate property owners will receive nearly $46 for each $100,000 of property value from the boosted rebate, up from $35 this year, but Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes told CityBeat that the exact number is unclear until the tax commissioner approves new tax rates.

College campuses generally struggle with too-frequent cases of sexual assault, but one lawsuit from an alleged victim is targeting Miami University for supposed negligence and a breach of the student code of conduct. The female student claims she was raped by former Miami University student Antonio Charles, but she says that multiple red flags could have prevented the alleged incident. Charles was eventually expelled from Miami University for “sexual misconduct” in response to the incident involving the plaintiff, but that was after he was investigated for multiple other accusations related to sexual misconduct. Miami University Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Rebecca Getson defends some of the university administration’s actions regarding sexual assault cases as a strict adherence to protocol and blames some of the public perception on the administration’s lack of awareness about the atmosphere.

Cincinnati’s economy will grow more slowly than the nation’s economy next year, according to Cincinnati USA Partnership for Economic Development’s panel of five regional economists.

Al Neyer plans to build a $22 million luxury apartment tower in downtown Cincinnati.

Cancer research done on mice might get screwed up by standard laboratory temperatures.

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

Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24. Of the more than $231,000 raised for Issue 4 by Cincinnati for Pension Reform, $229,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio, and Virginia. Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and a long-time tea party activist involved in a few of the listed groups, is also based in West Chester. City leaders unanimously oppose Issue 4 because they argue it would force the city to cut services and city employees’ retirement benefits — two claims that have been backed by studies on Issue 4. Supporters say Issue 4 is necessary to help fix the pension system’s $862 unfunded liability. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat that City Council will take up further reforms to address the unfunded liability after the election, assuming voters reject Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

A re-inspection of the privatized Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) found that, while the private prison has made some improvements in rehabilitation, health services and staffing, it remains on pace in 2013 to match the previous year’s increased levels of violence. Various state reports found the facility quickly deteriorated after it became the first state prison to be sold to a private company, Corrections Corporation of America, in 2011, under the urging of Gov. John Kasich. In particular, inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults rapidly rose between 2010 and 2012 and appear to remain at similar increased levels in 2013, according to an audit conducted on Sept. 9 and 10 by Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, Ohio’s independent prison watchdog. CityBeat previously covered the deteriorating conditions at LECI in further detail here.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted advocated trimming the amount of early voting days in a letter to the state legislature yesterday. Husted says he wants the rules passed to establish uniformity across all Ohio counties. But Democrats — including State Sen. Nina Turner, who is set to run against Husted in 2014 for secretary of state — say the measures attempt to limit voting opportunities and suppress voters. In 2012, Doug Preisse, close adviser to Gov. Kasich and chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, explained similar measures that limit early voting in an email to The Columbus Dispatch: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Husted’s suggestions also included measures that would allow online voter registration and limit ballot access for candidates in minor political parties.

A Hamilton County judge yesterday dismissed another legal challenge against the city’s parking plan, but the conservative group behind the legal dispute plans to appeal. The plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which would then use private operators to manage the assets. Supporters say the lease is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets for an $85 million upfront payment that would help pay for development projects. Opponents argue it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets to private entities.

Several Medicaid overhaul bills began moving in the Ohio House yesterday, following months of work and promises from Republican legislators. The bills increase penalties for defrauding the state, require the Department of Medicaid to implement reforms that seek to improve outcomes and emphasize personal responsibility, and make specific tweaks on minors obtaining prescriptions, hospitals reporting of neonatal abstinence syndrome, behavioral health services and other smaller categories. The overhaul bills follow Gov. Kasich’s decision to bypass the Ohio legislature and expand Medicaid eligibility for at least two years with federal funds approved by the Controlling Board, an obscure seven-member legislative panel.

Ohio’s controversial facial-recognition program can be used by some federal and out-of-state officials, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search state databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. Shortly after the program was revealed, Gov. Kasich compared it to privacy-breaching national intelligence agencies.

Ohio students aren’t as good at math and science as students in China, Japan, Korea and Singapore, among other countries.

A bipartisan “open container” bill would allow cities, including Cincinnati, to legalize drinking alcohol in the streets. In the case of Cincinnati, the city could allow public drinking in up to two districts if the bill passed. Supporters of the bill say it would boost economic activity in certain areas, but some are concerned the bill will enable “trash and rowdiness.”

Cincinnati leads the way on Twitter.

Vitamin B2, which is commonly found in cottage cheese, green veggies and meat, could be used to 3-D print medical implants.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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<![CDATA[Few Local Contributions to Issue 4 Campaign]]>

Issue 4, the ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, obtained most of its financial support from out-of-town tea party groups, according to financial disclosure forms filed to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 24.

The report confirms concerns previously raised by city officials, unions and mayoral and City Council candidates: The pension privatization effort is coming from outside Cincinnati and, in some instances, Ohio.

Up to Oct. 16, Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which successfully placed Issue 4 on the ballot, received more than $231,000 from campaign contributors. Of that money, $209,500 came from groups in West Chester, Ohio — organizations called Jobs and Progress Fund, A Public Voice, Ohio 2.0 and Ohio Rising — and $20,000 came from the Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund, which CityBeat previously reported as an early supporter of pension privatization schemes around the country.

Chris Littleton, a leading consultant for Issue 4 and long-time tea party activist, is also based in West Chester. He’s blogged about his involvement in Ohio Rising and Ohio 2.0, and he helped create the Cincinnati Tea Party and Ohio Liberty Coalition, another tea party group.

Upon receiving the contributions, Cincinnati for Pension Reform used more than $215,000 to circulate petitions, email blasts, advertisements and other typical campaign expenses.

The infusion of cash from out-of-town sources also helps explain why Cincinnati for Pension Reform managed to mobilize its efforts so quickly and without the knowledge of many city officials, who previously said they’re bewildered by the effort and don’t know where it came from.

If approved by voters, Issue 4 would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to and manage individual retirement accounts, which would also be supported by a proportional match from the city. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move from a public plan and instead imitate a 401k plan that’s often seen in the private sector.

The conservative Buckeye Institute, which supports Issue 4, previously studied the proposal and found it could greatly reduce retirement benefits for city employees. Although the Buckeye Institute’s report claims Issue 4 could ultimately save Cincinnati money, it was laced with caveats that could actually lead to higher costs for the city.

Another study from a finance professor at Xavier University found Issue 4, if approved, could force the city to cut services, excluding police and firefighters, by up to 41 percent or increase taxes by a similar amount in the near term by mandating that the city more expediently pay off the current pension system’s $862 million unfunded liability.

A major concern for critics of Issue 4 is that it could cost the city its Social Security exemption. Under the current pension system, the city doesn’t have to pay into Social Security. If Issue 4 passes, the city’s contributions to the pension system might not be generous enough to keep the exemption, which could force the city to make costly Social Security payments.

And if the city doesn’t lose its exemption, city workers would be left with an individual retirement plan that wouldn’t have the safety net of Social Security — unlike private-sector workers who get both an individual retirement account and Social Security.

Supporters of Issue 4 dismiss the criticisms. They say that Issue 4 is necessary to address Cincinnati’s large unfunded pension liability, which credit ratings agency Moody’s cited as one of the reasons it downgraded the city’s bond rating in July.

The city’s leaders, who unanimously oppose Issue 4, say they are working on solving the liability, but they argue it’s better to reform the system, not scrap it altogether.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls previously told CityBeat that pension issues for current city employees are covered by reforms passed in 2011, and she says City Council will take up further reforms to address the unfunded liability after the election in November.

Voters will make the final decision on Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

The full financial report:


Updated with more information Chris Littleton and the involved groups.

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<![CDATA[Audit: Private Prison Retains Increased Levels of Violence]]>

A re-inspection of the privatized Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) found the prison is “heading in a positive direction,” but the facility is still on pace in 2013 to maintain increased levels of violence similar to the year before, according to the report.

In 2011, LECI became the first state prison in the country to be sold to a private company after Ohio, under the urging of Gov. John Kasich, sold the facility to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as a cost-cutting measure. Since then, multiple inspections found deteriorating health and safety conditions that anti-privatization critics warned of prior to the sale.

The audit, published on Oct. 8 but conducted on Sept. 9 and 10, comes from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohios independent prison watchdog.

The inspection was announced beforehand, unlike the unannounced audit on Jan. 22 that found a sharp rise in violence and various health problems. In other words, CCA had time to prepare for the latest inspection but not the one conducted earlier in the year, which could explain some of the mixed improvements.

“The CIIC inspection team’s overall sense is that conditions have improved,” the report claimed. “CCA has poured significant resources into the prison, including removing or changing staff, hiring on former (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction) staff, investing in additional security measures, and bringing in outside consultants.”

But for all the improvements, CIIC found issues of safety, security and inmate discipline linger: “Although improved slightly, the percentage of inmates reporting that they feel unsafe or very unsafe is still high.”

CIIC found inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults remain on track to match 2012’s higher levels of violence. The previous CIIC audit found inmate-on-inmate violence had increased by 188 percent and inmate-on-staff violence had increased by more than 300 percent between 2010 and 2012.

Staff reportedly told inspectors that there was “significant progress” in rates of violence throughout 2013, but the provided statistics for the year don’t reflect an improvement.

In some areas, conditions measurably worsened: CIIC reported that a “significantly higher percentage of inmates” tested positive for illegal substances in the first eight months of 2013 compared to the same time span in 2012.

Disciplinary actions and use of force were noted concerns for CIIC, even though LECI staff apparently made strides to exert more control over the inmate population. The prison also has more serious misconduct than similar minimum- and medium-security facilities.

CIIC didn’t formally inspect medical services and recreational facilities, but inspectors received various complaints from inmates in both areas. The amount of inmate grievances against staff actions also remain higher than the years before CCA took over the facility, although CIIC found slight improvement.

Still, the report repeatedly praised CCA for its improvements, particularly in rehabilitation and reentry services, better performance of rounds and shakedowns, and stronger health services and records. One example: CIIC found inmates are receiving 47.9 percent more GED diplomas, which certify a high school-level education, than they did in 2011, putting LECI’s GED achievement level at the average for similar prisons.

Staffing issues also improved, although the staff turnover rate remains above the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction average and security officers reported poor morale because of low wages.

For some critics of privatization, the poor conditions come as no surprise. Before CCA bought LECI, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio repeatedly warned that the for-profit incentive encourages private prison companies to cut services, security and staff while maintaining as many prisoners as possible, since the prison’s pay is based on how many inmates it holds.

CityBeat previously reported on the deteriorating conditions at LECI after inmates’ insider accounts, requested public records and numerous state reports found increasing violence and health concerns (“From the Inside,” issue of May 29).

The full CIIC audit:

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

CityBeat yesterday revealed its endorsements for the City Council and mayoral races. Check them out here. Also, early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

JobsOhio and similar privatized development agencies in other states create scandals and potentials of conflicts of interests instead of jobs, according to an Oct. 23 report from Good Jobs First. The report found that privatized development agencies in seven states, including Ohio, tend to also exaggerate job claims and resist basic oversight. JobsOhio in particular is chaired by people who donated to Gov. John Kasich’s campaign. The agency also received public money without informing the legislature, and it gained a legal exemption from full public audits, public records laws and open meeting rules. Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 established JobsOhio to replace the Ohio Department of Development. They argue JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature helps the agency establish job-creating development deals at the “speed of business.” But Democrats say JobsOhio is ripe for abuse, difficult to hold accountable and unclear in its results.

A bill that intends to bring uniformity to Ohio’s complex municipal income tax code got a makeover, but cities say the bill still reduces their revenues. Business groups are pushing for the bill so they can more easily work from city to city and county to county without dealing with a web of different forms and regulations, but cities are concerned they’ll lose as much as $2 million a year. Many cities already lost some state funding after Kasich and the Republican legislature slashed local government funding, which reduced revenues for Cincinnati in particular by $22.2 million in 2013, according to City Manager Milton Dohoney.

Opponents of Issue 4, the tea party-backed city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, say it could force the city to cut services by 41 percent or raise taxes significantly. CityBeat analyzed the amendment in further detail here.

Converting Mercy Mt. Airy Hospital into a crime lab for the county coroner’s office could cost $21.5 million, well under the previously projected $56 million. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says it could be the most economical way for the county to get a crime lab, which the coroner’s office says it desperately needs. Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s still concerned about operating costs, but he’ll review the new estimates and advise county commissioners on how to proceed.

An Over-the-Rhine business owner says Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) “dropped the ball” with incentives for retail businesses, and he’s now looking to move his store, Joseph Williams Home, to the suburbs. Specifically, Fred Arrowood says 3CDC has done a lot to accommodate restaurants and bars, but it failed to live up to promises to attract and retain retail businesses. But 3CDC points to its own numbers: Spaces in OTR are currently leased in contracts with 20 businesses, 15 restaurants or bars and 14 soft goods retailers.

Cincinnati State and the University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will make it easier for students with two-year degrees at Cincinnati State to get four-year degrees at UC.

The Cincinnati Enquirer hosted a City Council candidate forum yesterday. Find their coverage here.

Northeast Ohio Media: “Ohio abortion clinic closings likely to accelerate under new state regulations.” (CityBeat reported on the regulations, which were passed with the two-year state budget, here.)

Gov. Kasich and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, two Republicans widely perceived as potential presidential candidates in 2016, don’t register even 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, a key primary state.

Cincinnati-based Omnicare agreed to pay $120 million to resolve a case involving alleged kickbacks and false claims, according to lawyers representing a whistleblower. The company says the settlement is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing.

Chef David Falk of Boca wrote a moving love letter to Cincinnati.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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<![CDATA[National Report Criticizes JobsOhio, Other Privatized Agencies]]>

JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies have created scandals and potential conflicts of interests instead of jobs, claims an Oct. 23 report from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments.

The report looked at privatized development agencies in seven states, including Ohio, and found that many of the same problems and scandals appear from state to state.

“These experiments in privatization have, by and large, become costly failures,” the report found. “Privatized development corporations have issued grossly exaggerated job-creation claims. They have created ‘pay to play’ appearances of insider dealing and conflicts of interest. They have paid executives larger salaries than governors. They have resisted basic oversight.”

The report focuses much of its findings on JobsOhio, a privatized development agency that Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators established in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency uses tax subsidies and other financial incentives to attract companies to Ohio with the intention of creating jobs.

But the report states JobsOhio “assembled a board of directors whose members included some of (Kasich’s) major campaign contributors and executives from companies that were recipients of large state development subsidies. It received a large transfer of state monies about which the legislature was not informed, intermingled public and private monies, refused to name its private donors, and then won legal exemption (advocated by Gov. Kasich) from review of its finances by the state auditor.”

It found similar issues in privatized development agencies in Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan. In some cases, the scandals have cost states millions of dollars with little job creation to show for it, according to the report.

The latest report concurred many of the findings in a similar 2011 report from Good Jobs First, which sought to warn states, including Ohio, about the potential risks of privatized development agencies.

For JobsOhio, a major cause for concern in the report is how difficult it is to hold the agency accountable. State legislators have approved multiple measures that shield JobsOhio from public scrutiny, including exemptions that exclude the agency from public records laws, open meeting rules and the possibility of a full public audit.

Some of the controversy also focuses on how the state funds JobsOhio.

“The proposal called for ‘leasing’ the state liquor profits ($228 million the year prior) for up to 25 years to JobsOhio, which would eventually issue $1.4 billion in bonds to pay for the use of the funds,” according to the report. “Critics charged that this was not a fair market price for profits that could potentially amount to $6 billion over the term of the agreement.”

The report laments that the privatized and secretive agency represents a shift for Ohio, which the report claims “was an early practitioner of online subsidy disclosure.”

Good Jobs First concludes privatized development agencies perpetuate an economic environment in which big companies already have too much say.

“The privatization structures we describe here, including the increasing use of corporate seats for sale on governing or advisory boards, absolutely favor large businesses that have the money and executive staff time to pay and play at such levels,” the report concluded. “But small businesses already get short shrift in economic development resource allocation, and they are still suffering the most in the Great Recession’s aftermath.”

The organization also takes issue with the idea that public agencies aren’t “nimble”: “In all of our years tracking development deals, we have yet to hear of a state agency that lost an important deal because it failed to provide labor market or real estate or incentive data in a timely manner.”

Asked about the report, Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols responded in an email, “We don't pay much attention to politically-motivated opponents whose mission is to combat job creation.”

Kasich and other Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized, secretive nature is necessary to secure job-creating development deals with private companies in an economic environment that, through the Internet and globalization, moves more quickly than ever before.

Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, claim the agency is ripe for abuse, difficult to hold accountable and unclear in its results.

State Auditor Dave Yost plans to release an audit of JobsOhio soon, but no specific date or time frame is set for the release. The audit was granted prior to state legislation that barred the state auditor from doing a full sweep of JobsOhio’s financial details.

The full report:


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<![CDATA[Port Authority Cuts Parking Plan Payment]]>

The parking plan’s lump sum payment is being reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage, according an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney to council members and the mayor.

Dohoney wrote that the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which is leasing Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the 30-plus-year deal, reduced its lump sum payment because of rising interest rates and its decision to reduce parking meter enforcement hours outside of Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District.

Under the reviewed deal, the Port Authority also handed the responsibility of building a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets to the city of Cincinnati. Dohoney recommends using the parking plan’s upfront payment to fund the garage, which will cost between $14 million and $15 million, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.

If City Council approves the allocation, the upfront funds would be effectively left at $70 million to $71 million.

The city still estimates it will get at least $3 million in annual installments from the lease.

Supporters of the parking plan claim it’s necessary to fully leverage Cincinnati’s parking assets to fund development projects and help balance the operating budget.

The plan also requires private operators, which will be hired by the Port Authority, to upgrade Cincinnati’s parking assets. The upgrades should allow parking meters to accept remote payments through smartphones, among other new features.

Critics claim the plan gives up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. They say the city and Port Authority could easily be pressured by private operators to hike parking rates far beyond the 3-percent-a-year increase currently called for under the plan.

The plan has also been mired in controversy, notably because the city administration withheld a consultant’s memo from the public and council members that claimed the plan is a bad deal for the city. The city administration says the memo was based on outdated information, but opponents still criticized the lack of transparency behind the deal.

Dohoney wrote in the Oct. 9 memo that the Port Authority’s board plans to meet on Oct. 19 to finalize contracts with private operators. If all goes as planned, the Port Authority estimates the new parking system will be in place by April 2014.

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

CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here.

State Auditor Dave Yost says he will investigate the potential conflicts of interest found by the Ohio Ethics Commission for nine of 22 top JobsOhio officials, including six of nine board members. For critics, the conflicts of interest add more concerns about JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that proposes tax breaks for businesses and has been mired in controversy ever since it was set up by Gov. John Kasich and Republicans to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Because the agency is privatized and deals with private businesses, many of its dealings are kept from the public under state law. Republicans argue the secrecy is necessary to allow JobsOhio to more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democrats say the secrecy makes it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable.

A state board approved nearly $3 billion in transportation projects proposed by Kasich, including work on the MLK/I-75 Interchange in Cincinnati that city and state officials say will create thousands of jobs in the region. The projects will require additional state and local money to be fully funded over the next few years.

In comparison to men, Ohio women have lower incomes, hold fewer leadership roles and disproportionately suffer from the state’s high infant mortality rate. The issues placed Ohio at No. 30 out of 50 states for women’s issues in a Sept. 25 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). The report analyzed 36 indicators for women in the categories of economic security, leadership and health; it then graded the states and ranked them based on the grades. CAP, a left-leaning organization, is touting the report to support progressive policies that could help lift women out of such disparities, including the federally funded Medicaid expansion and an increase to minimum wages.

Commentary: “Ohio legislator worried a same-sex marriage case will turn the country socialist, make him cry.”

Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who’s running against fellow Democrat and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, says he doesn’t know if he can stop the parking plan if he’s elected. Cranley explained it will only be possible if the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority doesn’t set up contracts and sell bonds for the deal before the election. Under the parking plan, the city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire various private operators to manage the assets. Qualls supports the plan because it will raise money and resources to fund development projects and modernize the city’s parking services, but Cranley argues it cedes too much control over the city’s parking assets.

It turns out Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye won’t be removed from Ohio’s education guidelines. State Board of Education President Debe Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, initially called the book “pornographic” and demanded its removal from the state guidelines, which led the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to criticize Terhar and ask her to reconsider her comments.

With the latest delay, small businesses won’t be able to enroll online for Obamacare’s marketplaces until November. Until then, small businesses will only be able to sign up by mail, fax or phone. The delay is the latest of a few setbacks for Obamacare, but the rest of the federally run online marketplaces will still launch on Oct. 1 as planned. CityBeat covered statewide efforts to promote and obstruct the marketplaces in further detail here.

Gov. Kasich is donating to charity more than $22,000 that he received in campaign contributions from an indicted man.

The city has begun work on a retail corridor that will start on Fourth Street and run north through Race Street. The corridor will take years to complete, but city officials say it will be different than previous failed plans.

The number of passengers whose trips originate at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has increased for six straight months, according to airport officials.

Data-analysis company Dunnhumby is looking to invest in Cincinnati startups.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center landed federal money to test vaccines. The contract could prove the largest the hospital has ever obtained, according to The Business Courier.

Police in the Netherlands use trained rats to catch criminals.

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

Today is the mayoral primary election between Democrat Roxanne Qualls, Democrat John Cranley, Libertarian Jim Berns and Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are widely seen as the frontrunners. The big difference between the two candidates: Qualls supports and Cranley opposes the streetcar project and parking lease. Polls will be open until 7:30 p.m. tonight. To find out more information and where to vote, visit the Hamilton County Board of Elections website here.

LGBT groups, civil libertarians and legislators came together in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus yesterday to announce Why Marriage Matters Ohio, a new statewide effort to educate and persuade Ohioans to support legalizing same-sex marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Equality Ohio, Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign are all involved. The efforts have also been endorsed by faith and business community leaders, according to the groups. The groups say the campaign is partly in response to public polling. The 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found Ohioans evenly divided on same-sex marriage: 47 percent supported it and 47 opposed it. But the survey went against earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University, which found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage.

If he’s elected governor, Democrat Ed FitzGerald says he would make changes to JobsOhio to make it more transparent and open to a public audit, but he says he wouldn’t dismantle the privatized development agency altogether. FitzGerald acknowledges he would prefer a public agency to land the state’s development deals, but he says it’s unrealistic to expect the Republican-controlled General Assembly to repeal JobsOhio. The agency was established by Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republicans in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Democrats have criticized JobsOhio for a lack of transparency that has mired it in several scandals and potential conflicts of interest lately, while Republicans insist the agency’s privatized, secretive nature help it establish job-creating development deals more quickly.

In a letter to the city manager, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is calling on the city to host town hall meetings with the four final candidates for Cincinnati Police chief. Sittenfeld says the meetings would help assess how the next police chief responds to the community and takes feedback. City Manager Milton Dohoney announced on Sept. 5 that city officials had narrowed down its pool of candidates to four: acting Chief Paul Humphries; Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.

Hamilton County commissioners are likely to keep property taxes higher to pay for the stadium fund, which is running in the positive for the next five years after years of shortfalls. Last year, commissioners agreed to reduce the property tax rollback by half, effectively raising property taxes by $35 for every $100,000 in a home’s value. With yesterday’s news, it’s looking like the property tax hike will remain permanent. Even without the full rollback in place, the stadium fund is expected to start producing shortfalls again in 2019. The rollback disproportionately benefits the wealthy, who end up getting much more money back than low- and middle-income residents.

Meanwhile, county commissioners might take up an insurance policy with PNC Bank to meet debt obligations on the stadium fund for the next three years. Commissioner Greg Hartmann says the plan would give the county enough time to refinance, which could help reduce the fund’s problems.

City Council committees moved forward with two major pieces of legislation yesterday:
• Qualls’ plan would enforce stricter regulations on the city’s lobbyists and expand disclosure requirements for city officials to make the political process more transparent.
• Councilman Chris Seelbach’s proposal would help address cellphone theft by making it more difficult to sell the stolen devices.

As it stands, the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund needs more money to stay solvent. Still, officials say the fund needs time for newly implemented changes to start making an impact.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino now stands as the top earner among Ohio casinos, according to the latest state data.

New hybrid engines could lead to a new era of more affordable spaceplanes.

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<![CDATA[Port Authority Unveils Parking Lease Details]]>

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati's parking meters, but the agency says its goal is to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenues that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port Authority and the private operators it's hiring.

In a much-awaited presentation, the quasi-public development agency rolled out board members and statistics to explain why the city should lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port, which will hire various private companies to operate the assets.

Much of the controversy surrounding the lease has focused on enforcement, which critics argue will be ratcheted up under the deal. Port officials clarified that the deal will involve more enforcement officers and more aggressive tactics, but Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, claimed there will be limits. For example, parking meters won't have built-in connectivity that allows officers to immediately detect when a meter is going unpaid, which means enforcers will have to make regular rounds and checks, just as they do today, before issuing a ticket.

Lynn Marmer, a Port board member and vice chairwoman of Kroger, said increased enforcement is necessary because most people currently don't pay for the parking services they use. She blamed that on the city's dwindling enforcement for parking violations: The city handed out 65,000 tickets in 2012, down from 104,000 in 2008.

"I think it's unlikely we all got better at following the rules and paying fines," Marmer said.

The Port doesn't expect enforcement to reach the levels of 2008 any time soon, but Brunner and others said that tickets will gradually rise once the Port Authority hands the parking meters over to private operators.

One of those private operators is Xerox, which will manage Cincinnati's parking meters under the deal. The Port says it plans to establish a 10-year contract with Xerox, but the contracts will be reviewed quarterly to ensure the company is doing a good job. If not, the contract can be terminated.

Port officials stated that Xerox will not get revenue based on stringent enforcement. Instead, the Port will regularly review Xerox based on a series of measurements that attempt to gauge how efficiently the company is running the city's parking meters.

Port officials also reemphasized that parking meter enforcement hours in neighborhoods — meaning outside of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — will only last until 6 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. as originally called for in the plan. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine meters will still be extended to 9 p.m., although some areas on the edges of downtown, such as Broadway Street, are exempt and enforcement will only run through 6 p.m. in those places.

The change for neighborhood meter hours will presumably lower how much Cincinnati gets from leasing its parking assets to the Port, but officials weren't ready to unveil exactly how much money the city will get. Previous city estimates put the lump sum at $92 million and annual installments at a minimum of $3 million, but that was before the Port's changes.

Prepared statements show if the final lump sum falls under $85 million, the city manager will need to approve the changes before the Port can move forward with the deal.

The decrease in hours also comes with a caveat: It will be possible for the city manager, Port and an independent board appointed by the Port and city manager to expand parking meter hours in the future. But such a change would require approval from all three governing bodies.

Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who's running for mayor and opposes the parking lease, says the Port's presentation did nothing to address his concerns. Claiming that "the devil's in the details," Cranley pointed out that the Port still hasn't released the actual contracts or bond documents.

Brunner said the documents should be released within a month, and the Port plans to give the public two weeks to review the details between the documents' release and the Port's final vote.

Cranley argued that might not be enough time. He told CityBeat that the city "almost gave away" free Sunday and holiday parking under its original lease agreement. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld's office had to catch the error and refer it to the city administration before it was corrected.

The Port's presentation was meant to wrap up the agency's due diligence of the parking lease as it approaches a Sept. 4 deadline. Going into the presentation, Marmer explained, "Frankly, we were more skeptical (of the parking lease) than neutral."

Emails previously acquired by CityBeat back Marmer's skepticism. Writing to other Port officials in June, Marmer expressed concerns that the parking lease has been poorly handled and will snare the Port with controversy. "This whole parking issue has been a gigantic distraction from our core mission," she claimed.

Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage Cincinnati's parking assets to pay for development projects that will grow the city's tax base. Opponents argue it will take too much control out of the city's hands, cause parking rates and enforcement to skyrocket and hurt businesses and residents.

The parking lease has been engulfed in political controversy ever since it was announced in October. Most recently, the city administration was criticized for failing to disclose an independent consultant's memo that found the city was getting a bad deal from the lease. City officials argue the memo was outdated, so they didn't feel the need to release its details. 

With its due diligence nearly finished, the Port will now finalize contracts, update the financial model for the lease and vote on the bonds and contracts that will complete the deal. If all goes as planned, the Port's new system will be in place by April next year.

This story was updated to clarify some wording and what parking meters will be enforced until 9 p.m.

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

Greater Cincinnati homeless shelters are reporting a 31 percent increase in the number of families calling for help — a sign that homelessness may be trending up. Meanwhile, City Council managed to avoid cutting funding to human services that help the homeless this year, but the local government has steadily provided less funding since 2004, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Cincinnati lost 4,000 jobs from June to July, but it gained 14,000 between July 2012 and July this year, far above the 3,000 necessary to keep up with annual population growth, according to data released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was at 7.1 percent in July, down from 7.3 percent in June and 7.4 percent in July 2012. The labor force shrunk in comparison to the previous month and year, which means the unemployment rate fell partly because many people stopped looking for jobs. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in July and the U.S. rate was 7.4 percent.

More JobsOhio controversy: The state panel that approves tax credits recommended by the privatized development agency has never said no, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Gov. John Kasich and Republicans say the Ohio Tax Credit Authority is supposed to be an independent watchdog on JobsOhio, but both JobsOhio and the Ohio Tax Credit Authority have their boards appointed by the governor. Democrats have been highly critical of JobsOhio for its lack of transparency and privatized nature, but Republicans say both are good traits for an agency that needs to move fast to land job-creating development deals.

Meanwhile, two Democrats in the Ohio House are pushing a ban on Ohio officials, including the governor, receiving outside pay. The proposal is largely in response to JobsOhio recommending $619,000 in tax credits in 2012 and 2013 to Worthington Industries, a company that paid Kasich through 2012 for his time on its board. The Ohio Ethics Commission refused to investigate the potential conflict of interest because it said Kasich made a clean break from Worthington when he was elected.

Hamilton County taxpayers might have to put up $10 million to give the Cincinnati Bengals a high-definition scoreboard, thanks to the team’s lease with the county. Economists generally see stadiums as one of the most over-hyped, unsuccessful urban investments, according to The Nation.

No City Council member supports the tea party-backed pension amendment that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city workers, excluding cops and firefighters, contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, Cincinnati pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials and unions claim the measure will cost the city more than the current system and hurt retirement gains for city employees. But tea party groups say the amendment is necessary to address Cincinnati’s growing pension costs, including an $862 million unfunded liability. CityBeat wrote about the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.

Ohio is partnering up with the Jason Foundation to provide training and information to teachers, coaches, other school personnel, parents and students about suicide, the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds after car accidents. The measure aims to curb down suicide rates.

Hamilton County and Cincinnati are pursuing joint funding of technology upgrades for 911 services, and the two local governments are moving permitting services to one location, according to a statement from Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s office. Hartmann has long pursued more city-county collaboration so both can run more efficiently and bring down costs.

The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati is now called Interact for Health.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) yesterday reported 2013’s first case of West Nile Virus. A 72-year-old woman in Cuyahoga County is apparently being hospitalized for the disease. ODH Director Ted Wymyslo said in a statement that, while Ohio has dealt with West Nile Virus since 2002, cases have dropped in the past year.

The University of Cincinnati is set to break another record for enrollment this fall.

Dunnhumby USA yesterday unveiled the design for its downtown headquarters.

A new electric car can fold itself in half when parking.

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<![CDATA[CCA Loses Four Prison Contracts in June]]>

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) lost four prison contracts in June as a result of rising violence and turmoil in the corrections facilities, echoing many of the same problems critics claim are found in a CCA-owned facility located in northeastern Ohio.

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union found CCA lost contracts in Idaho, Texas and Mississippi this month. The most recent announcement came Wednesday in Idaho, where a prison was allegedly deemed so dangerous that prisoners took to calling the facility "Gladiator School."

Two of the contracts are being sold to other companies, which the ACLU claims is a bad idea.

"Rather than repeatedly handing off authority to a revolving door of contractors, states need to both take responsibility for their own prisons and reduce the number of people entering the criminal justice system in the first place," wrote Carl Takei of the ACLU National Prison Project. "Only then can they unshackle themselves from the false promise of for-profit imprisonment."

In May, CityBeat published an in-depth report about the CCA-owned prison in Ohio, which detailed evidence of rising violence and unsanitary conditions first exposed to CityBeat by concerned inmates and their families.

CityBeat could not reach CCA for immediate comment on the ACLU report. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.

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<![CDATA[Court Sides with City on Parking Plan]]>

In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward.

But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget for the next two years.

But critics, including those who led the referendum efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’ operation hours, will hurt downtown business.

In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of todays ruling are exhausted or called off.

“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.

Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the budget and other projects.

“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he says.

But first, the city must follow through with legal processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.

Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.

But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.

At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.

In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill for our kids to pay.”

Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.

My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.

Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.

The ruling also allows the city to once again use emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.

Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the parking plan.

“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the ruling.

“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and, therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker wrote in his dissent.

The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox, Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and enforcement.

The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and pursue major development projects downtown.

Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.

City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.

Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.

We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.

Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.

Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls statement.

Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.

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

Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.

In a 2-1 ruling announced today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed an injunction holding up the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, allowing the city to move on with the plan and continue the use of emergency clauses. The plan, which CityBeat covered in further detail here, will raise $92 million in upfront money and at least $3 million in annual increments for the city, which the city planned to use to help balance the city budget and pursue a slate of development projects, including a downtown grocery store. But critics argue the plan will lead to a spike in parking rates and goes too far in expanding operating hours for parking meters, which they say could hurt downtown business. CityBeat will have more on this story later today.

City Council will vote today on whether it will move on with using $12 million in urban renewal funds to build a downtown grocery store, luxury apartment tower and parking garage to replace Pogue’s Garage. The Budget and Finance Committee already approved the project in a 7-0 vote Monday. If the full session of City Council approves the project, construction could begin late this year or early 2014, which means likely completion in 2015 or 2016.

Gov. John Kasich was unclear on whether he’ll support anti-abortion measures passed by the Ohio House and Senate in their budget bills. The governor reiterated that he’s “pro-life,” but he said he’s not sure if the measures go too far. The budget bills would effectively defund Planned Parenthood, use federal funds for pro-abstinence, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and allow the state health director to shut down abortion clinics by making it more difficult for them to get required transfer agreements with hospitals.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital ranked No. 3 in a new U.S. News and World Report for pediatric hospitals. The hospital also ranked No. 1 for pediatric cancer care.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Columbus won’t reinstate a fired gay teacher. But while Catholic institutions continue pursuing conservative social policies, some groups are pushing for the Church to reform.

New research found hands-free technology doesn’t make driving safer.

A study from Duke University found video gamers really do see more and better.

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

Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.

Also, take our texting while driving survey here.

The Ohio Senate proposed a budget amendment yesterday that would ban abortion providers from transferring patients to public hospitals. The rule continues a series of conservative pushes on social issues in the ongoing budget process that began in the Ohio House. The Ohio House budget bill effectively defunded Planned Parenthood and funded anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, while the Ohio Senate accepted those measures and added another rule that potentially allows the health director to shut down abortion clinics.

Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill that will prevent a full public audit of JobsOhio, the private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The bill defines liquor profits, which were public funds before JobsOhio, and private funds in a way that bars the state auditor from looking into any funding sources that aren’t owed to the state. Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Kasich to veto the bill, claiming, “The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable.”

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) says the $4 million going to the streetcar is a done deal. Republican county commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann tried to get OKI to pull the funds, but there now seems to be a general consensus that the money is contractually tied to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and, therefore, the streetcar project. City Council is likely to consider a plan to plug the streetcar project’s budget gap later this month.

Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is handing out marijuana plants at a campaign event today, even though the event may run foul of state law. Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders in this year’s mayoral race, but Berns has differentiated himself by putting marijuana legalization in his platform. While drug prohibition policies are generally dictated at state and federal levels, cities can decriminalize or legalize certain drugs and force police departments to give prohibition enforcement lower priority.

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is retiring July 1 following controversial remarks about “those damn Catholics,” the University of Notre Dame and others. Gee, a Mormon, says he has regrets, but the gaffes didn’t compel him to retire. In a statement, OSU credited Gee with helping the school build an academic profile of a “highly selective, top-tier public research institution.”

Local officials cut the ribbon yesterday for the Roebling Bridge, the latest piece of infrastructure to debut at The Banks.

Fort Hamilton Hospital has a new president.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has loaned more than any other big bank in the country, according to a new study.

How do mosquitoes survive storms? Popular Science has the answer.

Researchers unveiled a drone that can be controlled by thoughts. Next stop: the Iron Man suit.

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

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s running for re-election in 2014, to veto a bill that will prevent a full audit on JobsOhio, but Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the governor will sign the bill. The bill will define JobsOhio’s liquor profits, which the agency gets from a lease deal with the state government, as private funds, closing the profits to an audit. The bill will also prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican who’s been pursuing an audit of JobsOhio, from looking into private funds in publicly funded agencies. The new limits on state audits could have repercussions beyond JobsOhio, making it more difficult to hold publicly funded agencies accountable. JobsOhio is a private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development.

The Ohio Senate will vote on a budget bill Thursday that continues to push conservative stances on social issues and aims to cut taxes for small businesses. The bill will potentially allow Ohio’s health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The bill does not cut taxes for most Ohioans, unlike the Ohio House budget bill that cut income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent.

Local Democrats are unlikely to endorse a candidate in this year’s mayoral race, which will likely be against Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Even though both candidates are Democrats, they have two major policy differences: Qualls supports the streetcar project, while Cranley opposes it. Qualls also supports the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, which Cranley opposes. CityBeat previously did Q&As with Cranley and Qualls.

The parties’ slates of City Council candidates are mostly set. This year, Democrats are running 10 candidates — more than the nine seats available in City Council. Meanwhile, Republicans are running four candidates and the Charter Committee is looking at three potential candidates.

Cincinnati already has some of the cleanest water in the nation, but Water Works is making improvements to its treatments. One new treatment will use an ultraviolet process to kill 99.9 percent of germs.

It’s National Internet Safety Month, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be safe out there.

A 131-year-old historic building in the West End collapsed after a car crashed into it. The driver’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

Ohio State’s president, who’s a Mormon, is in trouble for making fun of Catholics.

Mason and Sophia are Ohio’s most popular baby names.

Dogs are currently the best bomb detectors, but scientists are aiming to do better.

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<![CDATA[Proposal to Prevent JobsOhio Audit]]>

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is calling on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, from fully auditing JobsOhio, following months of controversy surrounding the private nonprofit entity.

"I further encourage the Governor to return to negotiations with Auditor Yost, with the explicit goal of establishing an open and transparent process by which the people of Ohio can be sure JobsOhio is spending our tax dollars efficiently, and that the program is doing what it is supposed to be doing: creating Ohio jobs," FitzGerald said in a statement. "The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable."

Yost claims he can audit JobsOhio's liquor profits, which add up to $100 million a year, and private funds, such as donations.

But the bill effectively defines JobsOhio's liquor profits as private funds that can't be audited by the state auditor. Under the proposal, Yost could only audit liquor profits and excise taxes that JobsOhio owes to the state, with all other funds effectively deemed private.

JobsOhio was established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency's liquor profits come from a lease deal with the state to run Ohio's liquor operations.

Yost argues the liquor profits are intrinsically public money because the money would be in public hands if JobsOhio wasn't handling operations.

But other Republicans, led by Kasich, say opening JobsOhio to full audits would slow down the agency, hindering its ability to quickly react to economic changes and tides. Kasich has often said the private nature of JobsOhio allows it to move at the "speed of business," which he claims fosters stronger economic development in Ohio.

Democrats have pushed back against the notion, saying JobsOhio's private nature only makes it more difficult to hold the state government accountable. With the latest bill, Democrats, who have now taken to dubbing the agency "RobsOhio," say their concerns are being vindicated.

But the bill could have far-reaching effects beyond JobsOhio that would effectively disallow the state auditor to audit privately funded accounts in any institution that receives public funding.

Despite Yost's pleas to involve him in the process, the auditing bill was passed through the Ohio House and Senate in just two days without his input.

Democrats were quick to criticize the bill, asking what JobsOhio has to hide.

Kasich is expected to sign the bill to make it law.

JobsOhio isn't the only privatization scheme pushed by Kasich. He also sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a northeastern Ohio prison, to the Corrections Corporation of America. So far, inmate reports and inspections have largely found deplorable conditions at the Lake Erie facility ("From the Inside," issue of May 29).

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

The Ohio Senate sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that prevents the state auditor from auditing private funds at JobsOhio and other publicly funded private entities. State Auditor Dave Yost has been pursuing a full audit of JobsOhio in the past few months, but state Republicans, led by Kasich, have opposed the audit. Ohio Democrats were quick to respond to the bill by asking what JobsOhio and Republicans have to hide. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency established by Kasich and Republican legislators meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.

City Council passed an operating budget yesterday that slashes several city services but prevents laying off cops and firefighters. Human services funding, which goes to programs that aid the homeless and poor, is getting some of the largest cuts, continuing what Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition says is a decade-long trend that has brought down human services funding from 1.5 percent of the budget to 0.3 percent. The budget also makes cuts to other programs and raises property taxes and several fees.

City Council will likely vote in June on how to fix the streetcar budget gap. So far, the only known plan is the city manager’s proposal, which would pull funding from various capital funding sources. The streetcar budget is part of the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.

The Ohio Senate budget bill increases education funding over the Ohio House bill. The Senate bill raises the limit on how much a school district can see its state funding increase, potentially putting fast-growing suburban schools at an advantage. The House and Senate bills use a model that gives schools base funding for each pupil — a model entirely different from Kasich’s proposal, which critics labeled wrongheaded and regressive.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of Elections that will send 39 more “double voters” to the prosecutor. In most cases, the “double voter” filed an absentee ballot and voted in-person with a provision ballot on Election Day. The provisional ballots always ended up being tossed out, but Republicans say they want to find out if there were any bad intentions. Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke, who’s also head of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, called Husted’s decision a “travesty,” labeling the investigation a “witch hunt, aimed at scaring the hell out of voters.” Husted, a Republican, said the cases at least deserve an investigation, even if they don’t lead to an indictment.

Mayor Mark Mallory and local business leaders are calling on Congress to take up immigration reform, which they argue will come as a boost to the economy. “In order to continue to have the strongest economy in the world, we need to have the most innovative and creative ideas being developed right here in Cincinnati and across the country,” Mallory said in a statement. “That requires the best and brightest talent from around the globe being welcomed to our country through a fair and sound system of immigration.”

WVXU says the list of local bike friendly destinations keeps growing.

Traveling to Mars could get someone fried by radiation.

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

In Cincinnati, an ankle MRI can range in price from $367.46 to $2,865.42, but weak transparency laws make it difficult for consumers to compare prices. But to make up for the lack of transparency, some companies are providing compiled price and quality data to paying employers. A previous report from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave 29 states an “F” for health-care price transparency, Ohio and six other states a “D” and only New Hampshire and Massachusetts an “A.”

Ohio House Republicans killed Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion plan, but Ohio Democrats are planning to introduce the expansion as a standalone bill. The expansion, which was one of the few aspects of Kasich's budget that Democrats supported, would have saved the state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of Kasichs budget proposal here.

In two 5-4 votes yesterday, City Council approved the executive director position for the streetcar project and a repeal on a “double dipping” ban. The city says it needs the measures to hire John Deatrick, the current manager of The Banks project, to head the streetcar project, but critics argue the city should not be making hires when it’s threatening to lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters to balance the budget — even though the hire is through the capital budget used for the streetcar project, not the general fund that is used to employ cops and firefighters. CityBeat wrote more about the new position and the double dipping ban here.

This week’s commentary from CityBeat: “Religious Birth Control Exemptions Are a Double Standard.”

City Council also approved the Music Hall lease, which will enable extensive renovations. CityBeat covered some of the original details of the renovation plan when it was first announced here.

StateImpact Ohio has some information on how Ohio House Republicans’ plan for school funding differs from Kasich’s proposal. The big difference is Kasich’s plan was based on property taxes, which ended up being regressive, while the House plan is based on the average cost to educate each student, which makes it so less schools, particularly poor and rural schools that fell under Kasich’s plan, have their funding reduced. The House plan also expands performance-based pay and school choice, which Policy Matters previously found may hurt students and teachers. CityBeat covered Kasich’s proposal in further detail here.

Policy Matters Ohio posted an interactive map showing the county-by-county benefits of a state earned income tax credit. The credit, which mostly benefits low- and middle-income earners with children, is already used by the federal government and some states to progressively reward employment.

Freedom Ohio and Equality Ohio will debate the Family Research Council today over whether Ohio should legalize same-sex marriage. The debate will be streamed here. CityBeat covered Freedom Ohio’s same-sex marriage legalization efforts here.

The U.S. Postal Service will drop its threats to stop delivering on Saturdays after Congress denied the action.

A new study found humans tend to think strangers are staring at them.

Headline: “Why Are Monkey Butts So Colorful?”

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