WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
 
 
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What Is Responsible Bidder?

City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court. The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government. For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on. Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise. What is responsible bidder?It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished. Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model. The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program. The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted. What about local hire and local preference?Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies. What’s the conflict about? The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them. The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal. So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects? No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today. Why are these projects so important? By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history. If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year. Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder? Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce. Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.” Does responsible bidder benefit workers? Some research suggests it would. The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.Why do county commissioners oppose the rules? In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses. On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences. Does responsible bidder actually favor unions? Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes. But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law. Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them? By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project. More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.Why don’t the city and county just compromise? They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.Which side would win the court battle? It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing. So what’s next? At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.
 
 

Council Rejects Compromise on Sewer Projects

0 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
City Council on June 24 turned down a compromise between Cincinnati and Hamilton County that would have ended the county’s funding hold on sewer projects, which would have allowed the projects to move forward.   
by German Lopez 06.25.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Commissioners, Governor at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar moves forward, sewer compromise hits impasse, Kasich's approval at all-time high

The streetcar project is moving forward following yesterday’s votes from City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that will keep the public updated on the project’s progress. The increased funding fixes the project’s $17.4 million budget gap by issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The accountability measures will require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports. At the same committee meeting, council members failed to carry out a repeal of “local hire” and “local preference” laws, which was part of an earlier announced compromise between the city and county that would allow work on sewer projects to continue. At this point, it’s unclear whether the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will repeal the funding hold on sewer projects. The commissioners passed the hold after City Council modified its “responsible bidder” law in May. The city says the laws encourage local job creation and training, but the county claims the rules favor unions and impose extra costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. Republican Gov. John Kasich’s approval ratings hit an all-time high of 54 percent in a new Quinnipiac University poll, helping him hold a 14-point lead against likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald. “All in all, at this stage, Kasich has done a pretty good job appealing to voters across the state,” said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown. “FitzGerald remains pretty much an unknown to most Ohioans, with only one in four voters knowing enough about him to have formed an opinion. The election is a long way away, but the next stage will be the race to define FitzGerald, positively by the candidate himself and negatively by the Kasich folks.” The Cincinnati office for the Internal Revenue Service also targeted liberal groups, particularly those who used the terms “progressive” and “occupy.” The IRS has been under scrutiny in the past few months for targeting conservative groups by honing in on terms such as “tea party” and “9/12.” Ohio gave tax incentives to four more Cincinnati-area businesses. Overall, 15 projects received the breaks to supposedly spur $379 million in investment across Ohio. Miami University banned smoking in cars on campus and raised tuition. Headline: “Columbus man rips off his penis while high on drugs.” Here is a history of red panda escapes. A study found people find others more attractive after getting a shock to the brain.
 
 

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