WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by German Lopez 07.09.2013
Posted In: News, Casino, Budget, Infrastructure at 09:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
brent spence bridge

Morning News and Stuff

Bridge project to use tolling, governor prepares budget victory lap, casino revenue down

Ohio and Kentucky officials will roll out a plan in September to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge project with tolling — a decision that could lead to opposition from Northern Kentucky officials who have long advised against using tolls to finance the $2.5 billion project. The funding choice comes as little surprise, given the lack of major federal support for the interstate bridge project. But tolling could put the plan in danger if the Kentucky legislature follows the lead of its Northern Kentucky delegation. The announcement follows a December agreement between Ohio and Kentucky’s governors to get the project done. Gov. John Kasich will be using a month-long tour to show off the new two-year state budget. The schedule for the tour is still being worked out, but at least one stop in southwest Ohio is expected. The $62 billion budget has many moving parts, but a CityBeat analysis found the plan disproportionately favors the wealthy and limits access to legal abortions and contraceptive care in Ohio. Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino posted its worst monthly revenue gains since its grand opening in March. It was an equally poor month for the rest of the state, which saw the worst casino revenue gains since Cincinnati’s casino opened. If the trend holds up, that could be a troubling sign for proponents of using casino revenue to balance local and state budgets. A prominent Ohio Republican and former Kasich cabinet member says he supports overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, giving a bipartisan jolt to FreedomOhio’s efforts to get the issue on the ballot in 2014. Jim Petro, former attorney general and previous head of the state’s higher education board, has a daughter who’s gay, which may have influenced his decision. He was joined by Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, when announcing his support. CityBeat covered FreedomOhio’s same-sex marriage amendment when it was originally slated for the 2013 ballot here. Cincinnati Gardens is for sale. Kenko Corporation, which has owned the garden for 35 years, announced its plans yesterday. “Our hope would be to sell, and see the historic venue move forward in its current state: a sports and entertainment venue,” explained Pete Robinson, president of the Cincinnati Gardens, in a statement. “However, we are prepared to explore other opportunities.” At least two county commissioners are expected to approve the Cincinnati Zoo’s levy request, which could put the flat renewal of the five-year levy on the ballot this November. In other zoo news, here is Gladys the gorilla with her family. As City Council winds down its sessions, Councilman Chris Seelbach will keep busy and help other city employees pick up garbage and clean sewers. Seelbach will be tweeting about his experiences in a different kind of public service here. Kroger led Cincinnati stocks to a big start in July — a good sign for an ailing national economy that has struggled to get back on its feet. The Cincinnati-based grocer also announced on Tuesday that it will buy rival Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc. in a $2.4 billion deal. Here are some pictures of carnivorous plants in action.
 
 

Bad News Budget

State Republicans lower taxes for the rich, defund Planned Parenthood and try to block health care for the poor in Kasich-signed budget

1 Comment · Wednesday, July 3, 2013
With Gov. John Kasich’s signature, Republican state officials on June 30 passed a budget that alters taxes, schools, Medicaid and abortion services in Ohio, putting the state in a controversial and politically charged path for the next two years.   
by German Lopez 07.02.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Voting, Budget at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach calls for Voting Rights Act rework, 3CDC upkeep criticized, politics in budget veto

Councilman Chris Seelbach and other local leaders are calling on Congress to rework the Voting Rights Act following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions. Supporters of the Voting Rights Act argue it’s necessary to prevent discrimination and protect people’s right to vote, while critics call it an outdated measure from the Jim Crow era that unfairly targeted some states with forgone histories of racism. “Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, five states are already moving ahead with voter ID laws, some of which had previously been rejected by the Department of Justice as discriminatory,” Seelbach said in a statement. “The right to vote is one of the most sacred values in our nation and Congress should act immediately to protect it”. Nonprofit developer 3CDC says it’s restructuring staff and guidelines to take better care of its vacant buildings following criticisms from residents and the local Board of Housing Appeals. The board has fined the 3CDC three times this year for failing to maintain Cincinnati’s minimum standards for vacant buildings, which require owners keep the buildings watertight and safe for emergency personnel to enter. Gov. John Kasich said the funding allocation belonged in the capital budget — not the operating budget he signed into law — when he vetoed money going to State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office, but The Columbus Dispatch reports it might have been revenge for Mandel’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion and an oil-and-gas severance tax. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the allegation is “silly” and “absurd,” adding that Kasich said he would work with Mandel on allocating the money during the capital budget process. The state treasurer’s office says it needs the $10 million to upgrade computers against cyberattacks. Mandel was one of the first state Republicans to come out against the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered here and here. A series of mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts was supposed to take $66 million from Ohio schools, but state officials say they’ll be able to soften the blow with $19 million in unspent federal aid. The federal cuts — also known as “sequestration” — were part of a debt deal package approved by Congress and President Barack Obama that kicked in March 1. Prior to its implementation, Obama asked Congress to rework sequestration to lessen its negative fiscal impact, but Republican legislators refused. CityBeat covered some of sequestration’s other statewide effects here. The mayoral race officially dropped down to four candidates yesterday, with self-identified Republican Stacy Smith failing to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. Check out the Cincinnati Zoo’s latest expansion here. Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Where does John Cranley live?” It’s now legal to go 70 miles per hour in some state highways. Cincinnati-based Kroger and Macy’s came in at No. 2 and No. 14 respectively in an annual list of the nation’s top 20 retailers from STORIES magazine. The Tribune Co. is buying Local TV LLC in Newport for $2.7 billion to become the largest TV station operator in the nation. Human head transplants may be closer than we think (and perhaps hope).
 
 
by German Lopez 07.01.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Health care, Education at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

Governor signs budget, school funding falls short in long term, Medicaid expansion denied

Following approval from the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier in the week, Gov. John Kasich last night signed a $62 billion two-year state budget that makes sweeping changes to taxes and takes numerous anti-abortion measures. On the tax front, Policy Matters Ohio previously criticized the mix of income tax cuts and property and sales tax hikes for favoring the wealthy. Meanwhile, abortion-rights advocates say the budget will hurt women by limiting access to abortion, while Republicans say they’re trying to protect the “sanctity of human life.” The budget also makes changes to the school funding formula that increases funding to schools by $700 million, but the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools got in 2009. Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says Republican legislators should have spent less time on tax reform and more on education. Although Dyer acknowledges the final education plan is more equitable than Kasich’s original proposal, he argues equity doesn’t matter much when schools are still underfunded. One policy that didn’t make it into the final state budget: the Medicaid expansion. Kasich strongly backed the expansion throughout the budget process, but Republican concerns about federal funding ultimately won out and kept the Medicaid expansion from the final version of the budget. Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, says the expansion’s absence is irresponsible, but he’s optimistic it will be passed in a stand-alone bill later on. Owens and other supporters of the expansion argue it will help insure hundreds of thousands of Ohioans and save the state money by placing more of the funding burden on the federal government. One beneficiary of the state budget: low-rated charter schools. Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner today announced her candidacy for Ohio secretary of state — a position she will attempt to take from Republican Jon Husted. Turner is a vocal critic of Republicans’ voting policies, which she says suppress voters, particularly minorities and low-income Ohioans. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Friday released the first Human Trafficking Statistics Report, which his office plans to release on an annual basis to continue spotlighting Ohio’s trafficking problem. Law enforcement identified 38 human trafficking victims in the last year, but that’s only a fraction of the estimated thousands of Ohioans, particularly youth and those “at risk,” who are reportedly trafficked and abused each year. The Cincinnati Park Board won the National/Facility Park Design Award for Smale Riverfront Park. The award from the National Recreation and Park Association recognizes the park’s design, the inclusiveness of the design process and how the board met the local community’s needs for the park. This is just another major national award for The Banks; earlier in the year, the project won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation. Some Republicans are not taking last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage well: State Rep. John Becker, a Republican from Clermont County, now says polygamy is inevitable. Cincinnati is currently looking for a new police chief, and it already has 13 applications. Ohio gas prices are down again this week. Kasich says he’s not interested in running for president in 2016. Apparently, the unmanned Voyager 1 spacecraft entered a scientifically funky region last summer. Here is an explanation of what happens when stars collide.
 
 
by German Lopez 06.28.2013
Posted In: News, Health care, Budget at 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
medicaid

State Budget Rejects Medicaid Expansion

But Medicaid funding increased by $1 billion

Despite strong backing from Republican Gov. John Kasich, the Medicaid expansion didn’t make it into the final version of the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, calls the expansion’s failure a disappointment, but he says he remains optimistic the expansion will be taken up in future legislation. Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the federal government is asking states to expand their Medicaid programs to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $32,499 for a family of four. States are given a powerful financial incentive for doing so: For the first three years, the expansion is entirely paid for by the federal government. Afterward, the federal commitment is dropped to 90 percent, where it will indefinitely remain. The federal government on average pays about 57 percent of Medicaid costs, while states pay for the rest. So the 90-percent match for the expansion is a uniquely lucrative deal. But Republican legislators say they’re skeptical the federal government can afford such a large commitment to Medicaid, often calling the size of the expansion unprecedented. Owens claims there is a precedent for the Medicaid expansion: Medicaid. He says the federal government has historically upheld its commitment to Medicaid, which insures 2.2 million Ohioans. There’s no sign that will stop any time soon, according to Owens. To support his claim, Owens cites scoring from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan organization that scores federal policy proposals to gauge their fiscal and economic impact. In July 2012, the CBO found repealing Obamacare, which includes the Medicaid expansion, would actually increase the federal deficit by $109 billion over 10 years, which means the health reform law is an overall fiscal gain for the federal government. At the same time, analysts have found the Medicaid expansion would be fiscally beneficial for Ohio. Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade. Instead of being concerned about fiscal problems, Owens concludes opponents of the Medicaid expansion simply dislike the president, Obamacare and Medicaid. Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, pushes back at that notion. He points out the state budget will increase funding for Medicaid by $1 billion, allowing 231,000 more Ohioans to enter the system. “When people say that we’re not doing anything for Medicaid, obviously that’s not true,” he says. “Certainly, we could have gone down the road of not funding that particular provision.” The increased funding is going to people who are already eligible for Medicaid but, for whatever reason, aren’t currently enrolled. The federal government expects the new enrollees to sign up as a result of Obamacare raising awareness and education about health coverage. In other words, the federal government already expects Ohio to pay for these Medicaid enrollees. Failing to do so would have likely violated the state’s Medicaid agreement with the federal government and, as Dittoe acknowledges when asked, resulted in penalties. Although the Medicaid expansion is out of the state budget, there is a bill currently sitting in the House that would take up the expansion. Dittoe says that bill will likely be looked at in the early fall. For legislators, that might be politically prudent: A poll released June 14 by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found 63 percent of Ohioans support the Medicaid expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent. The University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research conducted the poll for the Health Foundation between May 19 and June 2. The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it into law this weekend. Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:• Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy• State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding• State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion
 
 
by German Lopez 06.27.2013
Posted In: News, Abortion, Budget at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
chastity bunch

State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion

Republican legislators claim they’re protecting “sanctity of human life”

Republican state legislators are using the two-year state budget to pass sweeping anti-abortion measures — and they’re proud to admit it. The goal is “to maintain the sanctity of human life,” says Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans.Most recently, the House-Senate conference committee, which put the final touches to the state budget, tacked on an amendment that requires doctors to perform an external ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and inform the woman if a heartbeat is detected. The doctor would also be required to explain the statistical probability of the woman carrying the fetus to birth. The amendment came in addition to other anti-abortion measures in the budget that would reprioritize family services funding to effectively defund Planned Parenthood, increase funding for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and impose regulations that the state health director could use to shut down abortion clinics. Under the regulations, abortion clinics would be unable to set patient transfer agreements with public hospitals, and established agreements could be revoked by the state health director. At the same time, if a clinic doesn’t have a transfer agreement in place, the state health director could shut it down with no further cause. The rules allow abortion clinics to set agreements with private hospitals, but abortion rights advocates argue that’s more difficult because private hospitals tend to be religious. Abortion rights advocates are protesting the measures, labeling them an attack on women’s rights. “If the governor and members of the Ohio General Assembly want to practice medicine, they should go to medical school,” said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a statement. “We urge Gov. (John) Kasich to veto these dangerous provisions from the budget. Party politics has no place in a woman’s private health care decision. The time is now to stand up and lead, not in the interests of his party, but in the interests of the women and families he has been elected to lead.” Dittoe insists Republicans are not attacking women with the measures: “The women in our caucus have introduced some of these proposals. It’s hard to say it’s a ‘war on women’ when you have women actually introducing the legislation. It’s certainly not about an attack on women; it’s about protecting human life.” Abortion rights supporters rallied today in Columbus in a last-minute stand, calling on Kasich to line-item veto the measures — a move that would keep the rest of the budget in place but nullify the anti-abortion provisions. Kasich has so far declined to clarify whether he will veto the anti-abortion measures, instead punting multiple reporters’ questions on the issue. Much of the debate has focused on Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services, sexually transmitted infection and cancer screening, pregnancy tests, birth control and various other health care services for men and women. Supporters point out no public funds go to abortion services, which are entirely funded through private donations. Public funds are instead spent on Planned Parenthood’s other services. Dittoe says that Republicans still take issue with the abortion services, and it’s the sole reason Planned Parenthood is losing funding. “Members of the House who have issues with Planned Parenthood have only issues with the abortion services,” he says. “The rest of what Planned Parenthood provides, I imagine they have no issue with whatsoever.”About 15 percent of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s budget comes from the family planning grants that are being reworked. Not all of that money is allocated by the state government; a bulk is also set by the federal government. The anti-abortion changes will go into effect with the $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the budget today, and Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law this weekend.Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:• Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy• State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding • State Budget Rejects Medicaid Expansion
 
 

The Little Engine That Could

3 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Against all the odds, naysaying and obstructionism it’s faced, Cincinnati’s streetcar project is moving forward.  
by German Lopez 06.25.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Commissioners, Governor at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news2_streetcar_coast_rs

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.
 
 
by German Lopez 06.21.2013
Posted In: News, Taxes, Streetcar, Economy at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio unemployment unchanged in May, budget overhauls taxes, streetcar vote Monday

Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7 percent in May, unchanged from April and down from 7.3 percent in May 2012, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Although the number of unemployed increased by 5,000 between April and May, the number of employed also increased by 32,100, keeping the rate relatively stable. Most sectors tracked in the report, including government, gained jobs. The final version of the state budget would cut income taxes and create a state-based earned income tax credit, but it would also hike the sales tax and make changes to property taxes that effectively increase rates. Republican state legislators rolled out the tax plan yesterday as a compromise between the Ohio House and Senate plans. The final version looks a lot more like Gov. John Kasich’s original tax proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for favoring the wealthy. The budget must be signed by Kasich by June 30. City Council is expected to vote on the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap on Monday. The gap is a result of construction bids coming in much higher than expected, and solving it would involve making cuts for a slew of capital programs, including infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino. The cuts will all come from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fund operating budget expenses like police and fire because of limits established in state law. Three days after City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an agreement leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Port Authority still hadn’t signed the lease, and it remains unclear when the agency plans to do so. City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat she’s confident the Port Authority will sign the lease. But the delays have raised questions about whether there truly will be local control over the city’s parking assets through the Port Authority, given that the agency is already going against the wills and assumptions of the city government by failing to sign the lease. City Councilman Chris Seelbach announced on Twitter that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel will release a joint statement on the city’s “responsible bidder” ordinance later today. The city and county have been clashing over the ordinance, with county commissioners most recently putting a hold on all Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the conflict in greater detail here. Federal data released this week shows Ohio has some of the weakest gun laws and, as a result, is a top source for guns for crimes committed in other states. Construction is expected to cause some downtown ramp closures and restrictions next week, so prepare for delays or a change in commute. A Japanese scientist may have to grow his human organs in pigs. The world’s first 3-D printed battery is as small as a grain of sand.
 
 
by German Lopez 06.20.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Taxes at 03:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Final State Budget to Cut Income Taxes, Raise Sales Tax

Tax plan also creates earned income tax credit, changes property taxes

Republican state legislators today rolled out a major tax overhaul that would cut Ohio income taxes, but the plan would also increase and expand sales and property taxes. Legislators plan to add the tax changes to the $61.7 billion two-year budget. The final plan is being touted as a merger of the original proposals from the Ohio House and Senate, but none of the proposed tax hikes in the revised plan were included in the original tax proposals from either chamber. Relative to rates today, the new plan would cut state income taxes across the board by 8.5 percent in the first year of the budget’s implementation, 9 percent in the second year and 10 percent in the third year. That’s a bump up from the House plan, which only included a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut. The Senate’s 50-percent tax deduction for business owners would be reduced to apply to up to $250,000 of annual net income, down from $750,000 in the original plan. Under the revised plan, a business owner making a net income of $250,000 a year would be able to exempt $125,000 from taxes. The plan would also create an earned income tax credit that would give a tax refund to low- and moderate-income working Ohioans. To balance the cuts, the plan would hike the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. Some sales tax exemptions would be eliminated, including exemptions for digital goods such as e-books and iTunes downloads. The plan would also make two major changes to property taxes: First, the state would not pay a 12.5-percent property tax rollback on new property tax levies, which means future levies for schools, museums and other services would be 12.5 percent more expensive for local homeowners. Second, the homestead tax exemption, which allows disabled, senior and widowed Ohioans to shield up to $25,000 of property value from taxes, would be graduated over time to be based on need. In other words, lower-income seniors would still qualify for the exemption, while higher-income seniors wouldn’t. Current exemptions would remain untouched, according to House Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz. The final tax plan is a lot closer to Gov. John Kasich’s original budget proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for disproportionately favoring the wealthy (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20). The budget must now be approved by the conference committee, House, Senate and Gov. John Kasich in time for a June 30 deadline.
 
 

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