by Nick Swartsell
29 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:47 AM | Permalink
Super-action-packed Budget Committee thrill ride; Jeff Ruby restaurant sails, err, sinks into the sunset; this porcupine is eating a pumpkin. Nuff said.
Morning y’all. Before we begin, I have to share something only tangentially related to the news. Last night I went and checked out a concert at Union Terminal, which has a 100-year-old organ in house and more than 4,000 pipes for that organ built into the walls. I don’t know a whole lot about baroque and classical music, but I do know a lot about loud music, and it was insanely loud. And awesome. Very recommended. To tie this into newsy stuff, I’ll just say go weigh in one way or the other on Issue 8 (the icon tax) at your local polling place. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday more or less tied up what the city will do with its $18 million budget surplus. The committee, which is composed of all nine council members basically adopted City Manager Harry Black’s recommendations outright. The decision came with controversy, however, as some on Council again questioned the process by which the recommendations were proposed. Council members Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld pushed back on the process, accusing Budget Committee Chair Charlie Winburn of trying to push the proposals through quickly and asking why public input wasn’t sought on the proposals before they were brought before Council for a vote. The three abstained from voting for Black’s recommendations.• Council also wrangled again over funding for Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative at the committee meeting. Several council members had questions about why some established programs are being cut to fund the $2.3 million jobs initiative, especially when the city is running a large budget surplus. Councilman Chris Seelbach pushed for an amendment to the ordinance funding the program to try and restore some cuts to housing advocacy group Housing Opportunities Made Equal and People Working Cooperatively, which helps the elderly and low-income with home weatherization, maintenance and energy efficiency. Those programs lost federal dollars from Community Development Block Grants that have been diverted to the mayor’s new jobs program. The amendment was voted down, 5-4. “These programs employ people,” said Councilman Wendell Young, who, along with council members Seelbach, Sittenfeld and Simpson voted for the amendment. “When these programs take a hit, that impacts their employees. There’s a real paradox there. These programs leverage dollars. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s help everybody.” Others turned out to either support the mayor’s program or oppose the cuts. Many spoke on behalf of Cincinnati Cooks, which is a Hand Up partner. But some questioned the mayor’s program. Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless Director Josh Spring praised the organization's partnering with Hand Up, but said cutting other programs was counterproductive and unnecessary.“Are we really going to lower poverty by five percent in five years by serving just 4,000 people? What the mayor has accomplished is that he has forced groups that get along to come down here and fight each other,” Spring said. “We do have a surplus. There are other ways to do this. Things like lead abatement, things like home repair, things like upward mobility so that folks experiencing low incomes can move up economically — those aren’t handouts.”• One other skirmish broke out at the marathon meeting, which was still going when I stopped watching it on Citicable at about 6 p.m. (yes, I lead an exciting and enviable life). The tussle broke out over money that was once set aside for permanent supportive housing in the city. That money had been earmarked for a prospective 99-unit affordable housing development in Avondale for those recovering from addiction and other issues called Commons at Alaska. However, pushback from some community members there hamstrung that development. Now it will be used for other things.“Last June, we had money set aside in the budget for permanent supportive housing,” Seelbach said. “I know some people say Alaska Commons doesn’t have enough community buy-in. But permanent supportive housing is an essential part of the equation. We were told we were not going to be eliminating it. And now guess what? We’re eliminating permanent supportive housing. Well, I’m not going to do that.” Seelbach voted against moving the money, along with Simpson, Young and Sittenfeld. • That’s enough City Council action, at least until Wednesday. Let’s move on. Normally, the words “best” and “suburbs” in the same sentence cause heavy cognitive dissonance in my brain. But this is cool, I guess. Three Cincinnati suburbs have been ranked among the best in America by a new study. Madeira (3), Montgomery (21) and Wyoming (24) were tops in the region and among the best in the country, according to Business Insider. The rankings looked at nearly 300 ‘burbs across the country and took into account housing affordability, commute times, poverty, public school ratings and the number of stifling gated communities, GAP outlets and SUVs with stick figure family stickers on the back window per capita. Just kidding on those last ones, guys. Suburbs can be cool, too.• The end of a long, watery saga: Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront restaurant, a boat that has been basically sinking since August, is being demolished.• The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned a study to determine future transit needs, and it found that the state will need to double its funding of transit over the next decade to more than $1 billion due to increasing demand. In 2000, the state spent $44 million for public transit. In 2013, it spent just $7.3 million. ODOT also gets money for transit from the federal government, however. Gov. John Kasich's administration has been especially cold to public transit, calling passenger rail supporters a "train cult" and turning down $400 million in federal funds for a commuter line between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. He also, you know, withheld state funds for the streetcar. This is why we can't have nice things.• In Ohio and beyond, it’s looking more and more likely that Democrats are going to take a beating this midterm election. That’s especially true in Congress, where once-safely Democratic House seats suddenly seem to be up for grabs. If Dems lose enough of those seats, they may not have any chance of taking back a majority in the House until redistricting rolls around again. Many analysts and some in the party have blamed the potential slide in House seats on the unpopularity of the president.• Finally, if all this news is just too overwhelming for you (I know how you feel) check out this porcupine. He’s eating a pumpkin. It's adorable. You’re welcome.
Redistricting helped the GOP win the House, and it almost caused the fiscal cliff
0 Comments · Thursday, January 3, 2013
Over the past few weeks, the political
drama in Washington, D.C., has circulated around the “fiscal cliff,” a
series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in for 2013. On Jan.
1, U.S. Congress narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff. But the close call
left some wondering: Could it have been more easily prevented,
particularly through redistricting reform?
by German Lopez
Judge halts election law, unemployment benefits advance, city loses budget director
A federal judge halted a controversial election law that
limited minor political parties’ access to the ballot and ruled that the
state must allow minor parties to participate in the primary and
general elections in 2014. But by merely agreeing that only the
retroactive restrictions for 2014 are too burdensome for minor parties,
the judge left room to keep the law intact for elections in 2015 and
beyond. Still, the ruling comes as a major victory for the Libertarian
Party of Ohio and other minor parties who took to calling the
Republican-backed law the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act”
because it conveniently limited minor parties that are upset with Republican Gov.
John Kasich’s support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.Ohio Sen. Rob Portman broke with most of his fellow
Republicans yesterday to help advance federal legislation that would extend
emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. Still, he hinted that
he would not support the three-month extension if the $6.4 billion cost
isn’t covered by federal spending cuts elsewhere. Without the extension,
128,600 Ohioans could lose unemployment benefits through 2014 even as
the state economy shows signs of weakening.
Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen yesterday confirmed
she is leaving her high-level city job to take the same job in Long
Beach, Calif. Peggy Sandman will fill in for Eriksen while a
search for a permanent replacement is held. Eriksen’s announcement comes as a blow to the city but little surprise to political watchers. Shortly
before taking office, Mayor John Cranley called Eriksen and other
administration officials “incompetent” because of how they handled the
$132.8 million streetcar project, even though their estimates for
cancellation costs turned out to be mostly on point.Newsflash: Global warming didn’t stop just because we’re cold now.The worst of the deep freeze should be over for Ohio.Cincinnati’s 2013 homicide rate of 25 per 100,000
residents compares to Cleveland at 22, Indianapolis at 14.85, Columbus
at 11.24 and Louisville at 8.43.An Ohio appeals court ruled Cincinnati can change medical benefits for retirees after all.Construction for the uptown interchange could begin in July and finish in late 2016.The city announced yesterday that it’s extending its
Winter Holiday Trash Amnesty through Jan. 17, which means residents have
until then to set out extra trash next to their city-provided trash
Gov. Kasich is asking parents to tell their children about
the dangers of drug abuse, as the state works to combat problems with
prescription painkillers and heroin.A Fairfield, Ohio, teacher who was fired for allegedly
telling a black student, “We don’t need another black president,” will
fight for his job.Dozens of inmates at the Lebanon Correctional Honor Camp
endured frigid conditions Monday evening after one of three furnaces
broke, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction.A Cincinnati-area medical device firm is in a race with
some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world to get a
painless drug injector on the market.People are stealing English ferrets used to hunt rabbits.A survey of brown dwarfs found they’re racked by planet-sized storms of molten iron.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 18, 2013
More than 36,000 Ohioans could lose out on emergency unemployment benefits this month if Congress doesn't act.
by German Lopez
Big week for streetcar, council OKs interchange funds, emergency jobless aid to expire
Major events for Cincinnati’s streetcar project this week:
Today, supporters will turn in petitions to get the issue on the
ballot; late today or early tomorrow, KPMG will turn in audit of the
project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs; tomorrow,
council will take public comment on the project at 1:30 p.m.; and on
Thursday, council will debate and make the final decision on the streetcar. Other streetcar news:• Mayor John Cranley is asking streetcar opponents to speak up during the public comments section of Wednesday’s council meeting.• Supporters collected more than 9,000 signatures
to get the streetcar project on the ballot. Nearly 6,000 signatures need to be
verified to allow a vote in the coming months.
City Council’s budget committee yesterday advanced funding
for the $106 million uptown interchange project at Martin Luther King
Drive and Interstate 71. The capital funding set by council will be
backed through property taxes, which, according to the city
administration, will prevent the city from reducing property taxes in
the future as originally planned. Still, proponents of the project,
including a unanimous body of council, say the project is worth the investment; the
University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center found in a May 2012 study
that the interchange will generate 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, $133
million in economic development during construction and another $750
million once the interchange opens.
Congress appears ready to pass a bipartisan budget deal
that will not extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed
through 2014, which could leave more than 36,000 unemployed Ohioans
behind in December and 128,600 Ohioans without aid through 2014. The
emergency benefits were originally adopted by Congress to provide a
safety net for those worst affected by the Great Recession.
Conservatives, touting the $25.2 billion annual cost, say the economy
has improved enough to let the costly benefits expire, but liberals,
pointing to the high numbers of long-term unemployed, say the benefits
are still needed and would help keep the economy on a stable recovery.The Cincinnati area’s economy could overtake the Cleveland area in 2015.Six men were taken into custody after a SWAT team
responded to a home and engaged in a gun battle that left a
three-year-old critically injured.A Union Township trustee says he can’t believe Chris Finney would
hurt his credibility for a $850-a-year tax break to open a law firm in Clermont County.
As a member of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes,
Finney repeatedly spoke against tax breaks for businesses in the past.Medicaid expansion supporters announced yesterday that
they’re no longer pursuing a ballot initiative after actions from Gov.
John Kasich and the Ohio Controlling Board effectively enacted the
expansion, which taps into federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility
to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.The Kasich administration expects to hand out education
grants from the “Straight A” fund on Wednesday in an attempt to reward
innovation at the state’s schools. The grants will go to more than 150
of Ohio’s 614 school districts, according to state officials.Someone hacked The Cincinnati Enquirer’s online streetcar polls.
The Mega Millions jackpot hit $586 million yesterday.A new study finds “blind as a bat” isn’t blind at all.Watch giraffes clash in a surprising, epic one-on-one:Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:20 PM | Permalink
Congress will not extend emergency benefits through budget deal
Despite lingering signs of a weakened economy, a
bipartisan budget deal working through U.S. Congress will not
extend emergency benefits for the nation’s long-term unemployed past Dec. 28.
If the emergency benefits are allowed to expire, the cut
will hit more than 36,000 Ohioans in December and 128,600 through 2014,
according to left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio.Without the extension, Ohioans can tap into just 26 weeks of state-provided jobless aid. Federally funded emergency benefits give the unemployed another 37 weeks to find work before losing government assistance.
The emergency benefits were originally adopted by Congress
to help Americans hit hardest by the Great Recession. The economy has
improved since then, but some question whether it’s improved enough.
“There are 4.1 million workers who have been unemployed
for more than six months, which is well over three times the number of
long-term unemployed in 2007, before the Great Recession began,” write
Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the left-leaning
Economic Policy Institute (EPI).Supporters claim the benefits boost the
economy by allowing the long-term unemployed to continue buying goods
and services that effectively support jobs. EPI estimates the benefits would sustain 310,000 nationwide jobs in 2014.
But at $25.2 billion a year, the emergency benefits come at
a hefty price tag for conservatives who are trying to rein in federal spending.
EPI claims the “sticker price” overestimates the net cost of the benefits.
“The 310,000 jobs created or saved by the economic
activity this spending generates will in turn generate greater federal
revenues from the taxes paid on the wages earned by those who otherwise
would not have jobs,” write Mishel and Shierholz. “They will also save
the government money on safety net spending related to unemployment (for
example, Medicaid and food stamps).”U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, last week joined 31 other Democratic senators in support of extending the benefits.“We must do everything we can to support those who are
still struggling following the worst economic crisis since the Great
Depression,” Brown said in a statement. “These are hardworking Americans
— many with children — who have fallen on tough times.”White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters
on Thursday the administration “absolutely expects” Congress to extend emergency benefits, but the extension could come after Congress reconvenes from a winter recess in January.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bipartisan budget deal without an extension for the long-term unemployed. The Senate expects to take up the same budget bill sometime this week.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:50 PM | Permalink
Food stamp program losing temporary funding boost
With a temporary boost to the federal food stamp program
coming to an end this November, more than 1.8 million Ohioans — 16 percent of the state’s population — will receive significantly less food aid, according to an Aug. 2
report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
The report calculates that the cut is the equivalent to
taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four. After the cut,
the food stamp program will provide each person with less than $1.40 per meal,
according to CBPP’s calculations.
Citing research from the USDA that shows many low-income
families still fail to meet basic standards for food security, CBPP says
the cuts will hit families that arguably need more, not less, help:
“Given this research and the growing awareness of the inadequacy of the
current SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit
allotments, we can reasonably assume that a reduction in SNAP benefit
levels of this size will significantly increase the number of poor
households that have difficulty affording adequate food this fall.”
Although the federal food stamp program has been cut
before, it’s never been cut to this extent, according to CBPP. “There
have been some cuts in specific states, but these cuts have not
typically been as large or affected as many people as what will occur
this November,” the report reads.
The reductions could also have a broader economic impact:
Every $1 increase in food aid generates about $1.70 in economic
activity, according to progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
“Ohio’s foodbanks and hunger charities cannot respond to
increasing hunger on their own,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive
director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, in a statement released
by Policy Matters. “SNAP takes Ohioans out of our food pantry lines and
puts them into grocery store checkout lines. It provides supplemental
food to the most vulnerable among us. Now is not the time to further
reduce this already modest assistance to struggling families.”
About 48 percent of Cincinnati children are in poverty, according to a 2011 study from the National Center for Children in Poverty. Despite that, city funding to human services that benefits low-income families has been cut throughout the past decade. CityBeat covered that issue in greater detail here.
The cut to the federal food stamp program kicks in
automatically in November instead of the original April 2014 sunset date
as a result of laws passed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and
Congress. Obama and congressional Democrats are now urging legislation
that would remedy the situation, but it’s unlikely anything will pass
the gridlocked Congress.
Republicans are preparing a bill that would further cut
the food stamp program, which they see as too generous and expensive.
From Fox News:
“Reps. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, two
Republicans who helped design the bill, said the legislation would find
the savings by tightening eligibility standards and imposing new work
requirements. It would also likely try to reduce the rolls by requiring
drug testing and barring convicted murderers, rapists and pedophiles
from receiving food stamps.”
by German Lopez
Posted In: Economy
at 04:00 PM | Permalink
Cuts affecting education, housing, environment
Policy Matters Ohio released a report
Monday that gives a hint of how federal sequestration, a series of
across-the-board federal budget cuts that kicked in March 1, will affect
Ohio. The impact of sequestration is already being felt in various areas, including
education, housing and the environment.
In Cincinnati, the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community
Action Agency plans to carry out $1 million in cuts by dropping 200 kids
from the Head Start program, which helps low-income families get their
children into preschool and other early education programs.
Cuts will be spread out all around the state, leading to
cuts in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency,
reduced research programs at major universities and the elimination of
military jet flyovers at certain events.
Wendy Patton, a senior project director at Policy Matters, says the cuts are only the beginning.
“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg now,” Patton
says, citing cuts in Chillicothe that will force the Chillicothe
Metropolitan Housing Authority to serve 47 less families through the
housing voucher program. “We will see this kind of information come out
across Ohio’s 88 counties as the months roll by.”
In February, the White House outlined how sequestration
cuts will affect Ohio in its efforts to convince Congress to stop the
cuts. The White House estimated about 26,000 civilian defense department
employees would have to be furloughed, nearly $6.9 million in funding
to clean air and water would have to be cut and 350 teacher and aide
jobs would be put at risk, among other cuts.
Even the unemployed will be hurt through cuts to
unemployment insurance benefits — bad news in an
already weak economy. In Ohio, about $5.3 million in federal grant money
going toward unemployment insurance will be cut in a way that particularly affects the long-term unemployed, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We already have a problem with the long-term unemployed,”
says Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters. “This just
makes it worse for these folks.”An analysis from The Washington Post found employers often discriminate against anyone who has been unemployed for a considerable time during the hiring process.
by German Lopez
Streetcar delayed to 2016, unemployment steady, Boehner re-elected speaker
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports the Cincinnati streetcar is being delayed until 2016.
The streetcar has been delayed time and time again, much to the cheer of opponents. Some opponents have taken
the delay as yet another chance to take shots at the streetcar, but the
city says a lot of the delays have been due to factors out of the city’s
control, including ballot initiatives, the state pulling out a massive
$52 million in funding and a dispute with Duke Energy.The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent in December,
with November’s rate being revised upward to 7.8 percent as well.
Employers reported adding about 155,000 jobs last month, but about
192,000 entered the labor force, meaning the amount of people joining
the labor force outmatched the newly employed. The unemployment rate
looks at the amount of unemployed people in the civilian labor force,
which includes anyone working or looking for work.
U.S. Speaker John Boehner was re-elected U.S. House speaker.
Just moments after securing the top House seat, Boehner said he will
make the U.S. debt a top priority. But continuing to make the debt and
deficit top issues could hurt the economy, as the fiscal cliff and
recent developments in Europe have shown.
Uncle Sam is helping out Cincinnati firefighters. The Cincinnati Fire Department will be getting $6 million in federal grant money to hire 40 additional firefighters. The money will be enough to fund salaries for two years.
Cincinnati’s biggest cable provider dropped Current TV
after it was sold to Qatar-based Al Jazeera. The Pan-Arab news network
has had a difficult time establishing a foothold in American markets,
largely because of the perception that it’s anti-American. But Al
Jazeera has put out some great news stories, and some of the stories won
awards in 2012.
If anyone is planning a trip through New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, Dayton International Airport now has that covered.A small town in Ohio is being accused of covering up an alleged gang rape to protect a local football team.
But KnightSec, a hacking group affiliated with the organization Anonymous, is
fighting back by releasing evidence related to the case.
Despite a solved fiscal cliff deal extending emergency unemployment benefits, Ohio’s unemployed will soon be getting less aid. The decrease was automatically triggered by the state’s declining unemployment rate.
Ohio’s universities are adopting more uniform standards for remedial classes.
The newest Congress is a little more diverse.
In what might be the worst news of the century, the Blue Wisp Jazz Club could close down. The club, which has the greatest spinach-and-artichoke dip in the universe, is facing financial problems.
People who recently obtained gift cards for Rave Motion Pictures may want to get a move on. The theater is being sold to AMC Theatres.
A new theory suggest Earth should have been a snowball in its early days, but it wasn’t due to greenhouse gases.
by German Lopez
West Chester lawmaker promises to tackle debt, jobs
In news that will surprise almost no one, John Boehner was
re-elected to the U.S. House of Representative’s top spot today.
Boehner, a Republican from West Chester, will now act as U.S. House
speaker for the 113th Congress.
Just moments after his re-election, Boehner pledged to tackle the U.S. debt and deficit. The line is nothing new. When President
Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office, the debt and deficit became top concerns
for Republicans after eight years of binge spending and tax cutting
under former president George W. Bush.
But focusing on the debt could hurt an already slow economy. In recent years, many economists, including Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, have criticized budget austerity measures for dampening economic growth.In fact, Republicans recently embraced
the economic fact by joining the rest of the country in freaking out
about the fiscal cliff. The primary concern with the fiscal cliff was
that it would have cut spending and raised taxes so much and so quickly that
it would have thrown the country back into recession. The Congressional Budget
Office estimated the wave of austerity would have spiked the U.S.
unemployment rate to 9.1 percent by the end of 2013, up from November’s
rate of 7.7 percent.
In Europe, governments have learned the lessons of
austerity all too well. Last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
was pushing Europe to balance its books. Now, top IMF economists are
releasing papers admitting the IMF greatly underestimated the negative impact austerity has on the economy.
In other words, if Republicans continue focusing on austerity measures to fix
the immediate deficit, the economy could get worse.
Boehner regained the top seat in the U.S. House largely thanks to redistricting. As CityBeat covered in this week’s issue, redistricting helped Republicans win the House despite losing the popular vote to Democrats.