by Nick Swartsell
18 hours ago
Posted In: News
at 09:35 AM | Permalink
Cincinnati-Chicago high speed rail gets more boosters; VLT auction under investigation; Kasich says part of the ACA helped people... but we should repeal the ACA
Good morning y’all! Here’s a quicker than usual rundown of the day’s news before I jet for an interview. There is yet another version of the Union Terminal restoration deal being passed around. The deal, which Hamilton County Commissioners are expected to vote on soon, doesn’t make many changes to the sales tax hike on the November ballot, but would hold the Cincinnati Museum Center responsible for any cost overruns the project might incur while allowing its leaders to seek financing for the project. Voters will still have to approve the .25 percent sales tax increase before that deal would go into effect.• VLT Academy might be gone, but there’s at least one more bit of turbulence related to the troubled former charter school. VLT closed in August after losing its sponsoring organization, required by Ohio law, and falling behind on its rent. It seems computers sold at an auction to pay off the school’s debts may not have been scrubbed of private personal information. The Ohio Department of Education says it has launched an investigation to make sure that information was erased properly and didn’t fall into the wrong hands.• The push for a high-speed rail route between Chicago and Cincinnati has gained more supporters. The mayor and city manager of Hamilton recently sent a letter to OKI, the region’s planning office asking for the office to fund a feasibility study for the potential project. They join Hamilton County Commissioners, who voted in September to request that study. The rail line could have big economic benefits, but would also be a huge, long-term undertaking. • Speaking of transit, you can tell the Ohio Department of Transportation what you’d like to see in the future at a public discussion from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Oct. 31. Yes, that’s in the middle of a workday. It’s also in Lebanon for some reason, which you can’t really get to by public transit. That has some people kind of miffed. The meeting is for the entire Southwestern Ohio region, ODOT says, and that’s why it has to be held in a central location. Come on, guys, you couldn’t have two meetings in Dayton and Cincinnati on a couple Saturdays? I’ll bring the donuts and coffee. Anyway, the event is part of a statewide outreach effort by ODOT to get input about transit options in the state. Meetings have also been conducted in Columbus, Cleveland, Athens and Findlay.• An Ohio man arrested in North Korea in May finally returned home today. Officials in the isolated country detained Jeffery Fowle after leaving a bible in a nightclub there. He was held until recently on charges of Christian evangelism, a crime in North Korea. His release might have been hastened by repeated appeals by President Obama to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. • We’ve reported a bit about Common Core in the past. Controversy continues over the new federal academic standards, and the fight is coming to the state board of education elections. Seven candidates are running for election to the 19 member board, and several of them have made repealing the standards a key point in their campaigns. Mary Prichard, who is running to represent Butler, Preble, Montgomery and Miami Counties on the board, has made the issue the centerpiece of her candidacy. She calls the standards “a government takeover.” Zac Haines, running to represent Hamilton and Warren Counties, has promised to work to repeal them in the state. His opponent, Pat Bruns of Price Hill, supports the standards. Ohio is one of 40 states to implement Common Core.• Wait. Did Gov. John Kasich really say that? He did, and he didn’t. The Associated Press reports that in a speech Monday, Kasich said a repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “not gonna happen.” Then Kasich, either backtracking or clarifying, ran them down and asked the AP to make a correction. He was only referring to the Medicaid expansion of the ACA, he said. That’s been a controversial issue all its own, with many conservative governors refusing to take the federal dollars to increase eligibility for residents of their states. Kasich did take the money, though, which has helped hundreds of thousands of Ohioans get medical coverage. Kasich’s correction is a bit of a small distinction, since most conservatives roll the ACA up in one big, evil ball. Rejecting the Medicaid expansion has been something of a litmus test for conservative governors. But Kasich has not only taken it, he’s praised the program. Opposition to expanding Medicaid, which governors like Texas’ Rick Perry have worn like a badge of honor, “was really either political or ideological," Kasich said in the same speech. "I don't think that holds water against real flesh and blood and real improvements in people's lives.” That alone is a noteworthy thing for a conservative governor to say. But have no fear, Kasich still hates the program, saying in his clarification that it “can and should be repealed.” Wait, even the part you said helps people?
by Nick Swartsell
8 days ago
Posted In: News
at 08:09 AM | Permalink
Proposal would lower property taxes and raise sales taxes, disproportionately affecting the low-income
Hamilton County’s tax structure could become more regressive next year if a new proposal to increase sales tax while decreasing property taxes is put into effect. A budget proposal by Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman unveiled Oct. 13 called for a .25 percent increase in sales taxes and a decrease in property taxes for the county. The decrease would amount to $38 for every $100,000 worth of property, meaning homeowners would generally see a wash or net savings on the deal while low-income and middle class residents pay more in taxes. Sigman says the budget represents a big
change in the way the county funds itself. The benefit of relying more
on sales tax, he says, is that it raises much more money from those who
live outside the county but buy things here. The budget proposal would
provide $210 million in 2015. That’s short of the $222 million needed by
county departments, but a big jump from the $200 million available
under the current budget. Democratic County Commissioner Todd Portune said the proposal was “bound to be controversial,” since sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor. Unlike income or property taxes, everyone pays the same sales tax rates regardless of income or assets. But lower income residents generally spend more of their money on necessities, including those subject to sales tax, meaning they end up paying a larger portion of their income in sales taxes. The bottom fifth of workers in Ohio, those making less than $17,000 a year, pay 7 percent of their income in sales taxes under the state’s current tax structure. Meanwhile, top earners, those making more than $138,000, pay as little as 1 percent in sales tax. And Ohio’s tax structure has gotten more regressive over the years due to cuts in the state’s income tax. At 6.75 percent, Hamilton County’s sales tax is about average for the state. Even if the .25 percent increase were to pass on the ballot in November, it would still be lower than other major cities in Ohio. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has a 7.5 percent sales tax, and in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, it’s 8 percent.The sales tax increase was first proposed last summer as part of a plan to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal. Republican County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to strip Music Hall out of that plan, but the tax hike will be on the November ballot for Union Terminal. That hike could also be used to provide for a number of other county needs, including a proposed move for the county Board of Elections office from downtown to Mount Airy.Commissioners have not said whether they support the budget proposal.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 1, 2014
A high-speed rail line from Cincinnati to
Chicago became an inch closer to reality when Hamilton County
Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to fund a feasibility study
Democrats see a chance to regain a majority on the Hamilton County Commissioners board. Sort of.
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 2, 2014
After last month's battle between the city and Hamilton
County's Republican Commissioners over funds to fix Music Hall and
Union Terminal, Democrats sense an
opportunity to unseat Commissioner Chris Monzel in the upcoming November
by Nick Swartsell
77 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:46 AM | Permalink
Black likely to hew close to Cranley's agenda; gay marriage demonstrations downtown; monkey selfie legal imbroglio
Say you’ve got a friend from out of town coming to Cincinnati. You really want to give them a warm welcome. What’s the best party in town for a newcomer? That’s right: a 2.5 hour hang sesh with city council! Yesterday, members of council grilled Mayor John Cranley’s pick for city manager Harry Black about his specific vision for the city. Black already gave some broad outlines of his approach last week, but council wanted to get down to brass tacks. It was the predictable theater production these kinds of appointment hearings usually are, with Black providing careful, not terribly specific answers to questions from council members, most notably Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson, about specific ideas he would implement as the second-most powerful member of city government. Black says he would need to assess where the city stands before making any drilled-down proposals. But as the Business Courier points out in its story today, he did tip his hand a bit on the streetcar, saying the city has limited amounts of money and that anything after the current phase of the project is something for future discussions. Black looks as if he’ll play pretty close to Cranley’s game plan for the city, which could well pit him against some members of council on a number of issues. That should make this afternoon’s full-council discussion and vote on his appointment interesting.• As I mentioned yesterday, Cincinnati’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today will hear challenges to gay marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. Demonstrations against gay marriage bans took place last night downtown and will continue today outside the courthouse. Religious groups supporting the bans are also encouraging followers to turn out. Stay tuned for more on the court’s rulings.• Also happening today — Hamilton County Commissioners will decide whether to put a .25 percent sales tax increase on the ballot to fund the renovation of Union Terminal and Music Hall. There has been a lot of wrangling about this proposal as the commissioners and anti-tax groups look for more financial input from the city. Meanwhile, supporters of the tax say it’s now or never for the renovations. Various alternative proposals have been floated, including cutting Music Hall from the deal or charging fees on tickets to events at the landmarks. We’ll report the commissioners’ decision when it comes down. They meet at 11 a.m.• Also also happening today — Rev. Jesse Jackson will be at City Hall discussing a proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding voting rights in commemoration of today’s 49th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Mayor John Cranley and State Rep. Alicia Reece will introduce Jackson at 1 p.m.• Toledo’s toxic algae woes may not be over, according to scientists. Last weekend the city advised citizens not to drink or bathe with water from the municipal water supply due to high levels of toxins from algae in Lake Erie. The algae has been increasing intensely due to runoff from large-scale farming and other industries. Scientists warn that it’s still early in the season for the algae, which usually peaks in late August. They also say the underlying conditions that caused the water emergency are nowhere near mitigated, though the city has taken extra precautions in purifying municipal water.• When it comes to economics, it’s hard to get more mainstream than Standard and Poor’s, the financial analysis giant owned by McGraw-Hill. S&P authors the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is one of the few elite credit-rating agencies. Not exactly a leftist revolutionary group, then. But even this Wall Street giant has begun raising alarms about income inequality, releasing a report yesterday about the pragmatic hazards of the growing gap between the rich and the rest in the United States. The report sheds moral considerations about inequality, of course, in favor of cold, hard economics. And here, the gap has slowed growth and hindered our economy, the report says.“Our review of the data, as well as a wealth of research on this matter, leads us to conclude that the current level of economic inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population,” the report summarizes. • Finally, the world has come to this: There’s a big fight brewing over who owns the rights to a selfie a monkey took back in 2011. Selfies weren’t quite the phenomenon they are now, so first and foremost I applaud the crested black macaque who snapped a pretty great pic of herself for being ahead of the curve. The photo happened when a British photographer set up his gear to trigger remotely as he was trying to get a candid photo of a group of the wild macaques in Indonesia. The monkey in question grabbed the gear and eventually found the shutter button, snapping hundreds of pics of herself and her surroundings. Most were blurry, but a couple are crisp and colorful, and really, much better looking than any selfie I’ve ever attempted, which is depressing. Anyway, Wikimedia has posted the photo in its collection of more than 20 million royalty-free images. The photographer has sued Wikimedia to take the photo down, but the group, which runs Wikipedia, has claimed that since the monkey took the picture, it owns the copyright to the image the photographer doesn't own the image. The group has yet to receive a cease-and-desist letter from said monkey, though rumor has it the macaque has asked that her Instagram and Tumblr handles be included when the photo is used online.UPDATE: I pride myself on rarely having to do corrections, but they got me on this one. Apparently, Wikimedia isn't claiming that the monkey has the copyright, though I haven't checked to see if the monkey is feeling litigious. From the company:
"We don't agree that the photographer in question has copyright over the images. That doesn't mean the monkey owns the copyright: it just means that the human who owns the camera doesn't.
For example, under US copyright law, copyright claims
cannot vest in to non-human authors (that is, non-human authors can't
own copyrights) -- and the monkey was the photographer. To claim
copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial
contributions to the final image, and even then, they'd only have
copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image."Noted, corrected. Sorry 'bout that.
by Nick Swartsell
121 days ago
Posted In: News
at 08:31 AM | Permalink
Let's talk about the future, pro-life groups make battle plan and why we call it soccer
A rare alignment of the stars (or at least schedules) makes today a crazy day to be a general-assignment reporter. And while I wouldn’t normally just give you a list of really exciting, awesome meetings that are happening, there are lots of issues that could decide the city’s future being debated around town. I prefer to think of it like a civics-themed pub crawl. In the middle of the day. On Monday. And there’s no drinking (at least until afterward).• Hamilton County Commissioners meet at noon to hear a presentation from the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a cadre of 22 business leaders who are working on ways to renovate Union Terminal and Music Hall. They’ll be talking about a proposed sales tax increase as well as other options for funding the renovations before the commissioners decide whether the proposal should go on the ballot. • Then, at 1 p.m., council’s Budget and Finance Committee meets to discuss development in Over-the-Rhine north of Liberty Street, as well as funding for two affordable housing developments. 3CDC would like the rights to develop 20-35 buildings in the area around Findlay Market, though OTR Community Council has asked the city to find ways to get more small developers and resident input into the development process there. Council will also consider a debate over how to fund some affordable housing units in Pendleton and Avondale — council had voted to support the development in Avondale, but some neighborhood resistance to the project has stalled it for the moment. Meanwhile, the city is debating moving some money for that project to one in Pendleton. Advocates say both are necessary and should be funded.The council meetings are at City Hall, and the Commissioners’ meeting is at the county building on Court Street. • Another big meeting today involves the city’s deal with General Electric that will bring 2,000 of the company’s employees to The Banks. Council and the commissioners meet at Great American Ball Park at 10 a.m. to discuss incentives for the company for its move, including a 100 percent abatement on property taxes at the site for the next 15 years. The expected package is one of the sweetest deals the city has ever offered a company. GE has also been mulling relocation to other sites, including Norwood, and is asking for the incentives because moving to The Banks could cost more than other options.• An increasing number of foreign students attend Ohio’s 13 public universities, making Ohio eighth in the nation for international enrollment. Toledo University had the most international students last year, followed by Miami University.• Pro-choice and pro-life groups are both pointing to 2015 as a big year for the fight over women's health in Ohio. Ohio Right to Life, a very active pro-life activist group, has indicated it’s putting together an aggressive legislative agenda for next year in an effort to curtail the availability of abortions in the state. The group says they’ll be pushing five or six bills to that end and has expressed confidence that many of the incumbents in the Ohio General Assembly, as well as Gov. John Kasich, will be re-elected and support their goals. Meanwhile, NARAL Ohio Pro-Choice, a pro-choice advocacy group in the state, has sounded alarms, saying Ohio is becoming “one of the most dangerous states for women’s health.”• Finally, with World Cup fever reminding Americans that, oh yeah, soccer is a thing, it’s a great time to check out this Atlantic article on why we call it that in the first place when the rest of the world calls it football. (Hint: It's the Brits' fault.)
3 Comments · Wednesday, October 24, 2012
TUESDAY OCT. 23: Like Galileo, Christina Aguilera’s recent bomb of an album, Bionic, was “ahead of its time” ... at least according Aguilera.
Commissioners could spend $300K to keep property tax rollback with no stadium fund solution in sight
1 Comment · Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners is
poised to approve spending almost $300,000 on an insurance policy to
help cover the stadium bonds.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The message at a July 18 County Commission public hearing: Don’t reduce funding for mental health and senior services.
by Andy Brownfield
at 03:48 PM | Permalink
Lack of levy increase would reduce funding
The message at a Wednesday County Commission public hearing: Don’t reduce funding for mental health and senior services.
The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners must
determine the levy amounts by Aug. 8. Last week the county’s Tax Levy
Review Committee determined that the levies that fund services such as
Meals on Wheels, home care and counseling for 30,000 county residents
should remain at their current rate — an effective cut to their funding.
Property owners currently pay $77.70 in taxes from the
levy on a $100,000 home. Maintaining the current levy would represent a
reduction in funding because of declining property values.
Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls urged commissioners to make sure senior services were fully funded.
“When families have to make the choice between caregiving
and work, that some families, without this levy fully funded, would have
to choose not to work in order to provide care,” Qualls said. “That is a
terrible choice to put families in the midst of.”
Doris VanLouit, who has been a member of the Sycamore
Senior Center for more than 10 years and volunteered at the front desk,
told commissioners that many seniors depend on the services funded by
“Sometimes the Meals on Wheels drivers are the only folks that these shut-ins see all week long,” VanLouit said.
“And transportation to the center is so vital because I
see them come in … on walkers and canes, and this is the only social
atmosphere that they get all week.”
The Tax Levy Review Committee recommended that the
agencies receiving funding from the levies find areas to cut and operate
In a letter to the Board of County Commissioners, the
committee said it tried to balance the needs of the service recipients
with the ability of taxpayers to take on additional burden.
The Enquirer reported that committee member Dan
Unger during a Monday board meeting said the committee was trying to
protect “people who invest in housing and choose to live here.”
Mental Health and Recovery Services Board Chairman Thomas Gableman said creating efficiencies might not be possible.
Gableman said over the last 5 years there has been a 10
percent decrease in levy revenue, while there’s been a 16 percent
increase in clients served over that same period. He said the board has
implemented nearly $4 million in cuts over the last year.
“We operate at 2.3 percent administrative cost. When the
Tax Levy Review Committee talks about increase in efficiencies, we’ve
gone through that exercise over and over again — there are no further
cuts in administrative costs,” Gableman said.
“When we start talking about cuts, it will be in services.”
Pat Tribbe, Mental Health Board president and CEO, said it
would only require an additional $6 per year in property taxes to keep
the board’s funding level.
The Board of County Commissioners plans to have two more
public hearings on the levies before they vote — at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30
p.m. on Aug. 1.
Ultimately it is up to Hamilton County voters in November to approve or strike down the levies.