by German Lopez
Outsiders back pension reform, Requiem could be evicted, JobsOhio conflicted in interests
Local and national tea party groups are pushing a ballot initiative that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system
by moving city workers from a public plan to 401k-style plans, but city
officials and unions are urging voters to reject the measure because
they claim it would raise costs for the city and reduce gains for
retirees. Cincinnati for Pension Reform paid Arno Petition Consultants
nearly $70,000 to gather enough signatures to get the initiative on the
ballot. It’s so far unclear where that money came from. Virginia-based
Liberty Initiative Fund, which is supporting a similar pension proposal in
Tucson, Ariz., is backing the Cincinnati effort, with one of two
blog posts on its website
praising the local initiative. Liberty Initiative Fund has given at
least $81,000 to the Tucson campaign. For more information about the
Cincinnati campaign and initiative, click here.
Hamilton County Judge Carl Stitch on Wednesday ruled against granting a temporary restraining order
that would prevent the trio that owns and leases the Emery Theatre from
evicting the nonprofit seeking to renovate the building. The ruling
means Requiem Project, which was founded in 2008 to renovate the
theater, might be kicked out by the University of Cincinnati, Emery
Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP) and the Emery Center
Corporation (ECC), the groups that own and lease the Emery Theatre.
Still, the judge said that the ruling should in no way indicate what the
final outcome of the case will be and it could turn out that
Requiem deserves a long-term lease.
Gov. John Kasich received campaign donations from and
served on the board of Worthington Industries, a central Ohio steel
processor, before the company got tax credits from JobsOhio,
the privatized development agency. Kasich’s spokesperson told the
Associated Press that the governor severed ties with Worthington before the
tax deals were approved. Still, the latest discovery adds to a series of
conflicts of interest that have mired JobsOhio in the past few weeks.
Previously, Dayton Daily News found that most of the board
members on JobsOhio had direct financial ties to some of the companies
getting state aid. Republicans defend JobsOhio because they say its
privatized and secretive nature allows it to carry out job-creating
development deals more quickly, but Democrats say the agency is too
difficult to hold accountable and might be wasting taxpayer money.
Commentary: “Disparity Study Now.”
State officials are looking to tighten limits
for local governments passing budgets, issuing debt and funding
pensions. State Rep. Lou Terhar, a Republican from Cincinnati, and State
Auditor Dave Yost say the proposal is aimed at correcting pension
problems such as the one in Cincinnati, which Yost labeled
“Pension-zilla.” Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability currently
stands at $862 million, which earned the city a downgraded bond rating from Moody’s in a July 15 report.
A task force convened by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor is set to meet again to discuss possible changes to the state’s death penalty.
The panel recently proposed eliminating the use of capital punishment
in cases in which an aggravated murder was committed during a burglary,
robbery or rape.
A record number of white women, many from rural areas, are being sent to Ohio prisons, according to a report from the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Two City Council candidates are struggling to get their names on the ballot
because of a couple different circumstances. Newcomer Mike Moroski fell
46 petition signatures short of the requirement of 500 signatures that
have to be turned in by Aug. 22. Meanwhile, hundreds of Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld’s petitions might be thrown out because several dates were
corrected by crossing them out and writing the accurate date on the back
of the forms. The Hamilton County Board of Elections says it’s unclear
whether it can accept those signatures. Both candidates are now renewing
their petition drives to ensure they appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Candace Klein is resigning as CEO of SoMoLend,
the embattled local startup that previously partnered with the city of
Cincinnati to link local businesses to up to $400,000 in loans. City officials
Monday they were severing ties with SoMoLend after it was revealed that
the Ohio Division of Securities is accusing the company of fraud
because SoMoLend allegedly failed to get the proper licenses and exaggerated its
financial and performance figures. SoMoLend’s specialty is supposed to
be using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups
with lenders, but the charges have called its expertise into question.
Metro, the city’s bus system, turns 40 today, and it plans to hold a party on Fountain Square from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in celebration.
Activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman sold a majority of his Procter & Gamble stocks.
Popular Science has the list of the 10 weirdest robots at this year’s drone show here.
Ohio set to execute Billy Slagle this week despite a prosecutor’s request for clemency
7 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Billy Slagle is going to die on Aug. 7.
The Ohio Parole Board recommended against granting Slagle clemency on
July 16, and Gov. John Kasich last week denied Slagle’s request to have
his death sentence commuted to life in prison.
by German Lopez
Human services funding falls short, state to kill murderer, longshot mayoral candidates rage
Although this year’s cuts are being undone, City Hall has been cutting resources
to the homeless, long-term unemployed, crime victims and casualties of
domestic abuse since 2004. Aid to those groups is part of human services
funding, which is supposed to receive 1.5 percent of the operating
budget but currently gets a quarter of that at 0.4 percent. To explain
the decade of cuts, the city administration typically points to citizen
surveys and meetings conducted as part of the priority-driven budgeting
process. But a CityBeat analysis of the demographics of the process found they were skewed in favor of the wealthiest
Cincinnatians and against low-income people, who benefit the most from
human services. For the agencies that receive funding, the history of cuts is even
more worrying as Cincinnati prepares for more budget gaps in the next
The state of Ohio will execute Billy Slagle on Aug. 7,
even though the prosecutor’s office behind the charges asked the Ohio
Parole Board to grant him clemency. The parole board denied the request,
and Gov. John Kasich last week declined to commute the sentence to life
in prison. Slagle was convicted in 1988 of murdering a 40-year-old
woman in a gruesome stabbing. His family says he was in an alcohol- and
drug-fueled haze at the time and has a history of problems at home, including
domestic abuse, that presents extenuating circumstances.
Two longshot mayoral candidates are really upset
about Cincinnati’s primary system: Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble
sent an F-bomb-laden email to debate organizers, and Libertarian Jim
Berns quit the race. Under the current primary system, multiple mayoral
candidates are allowed to run. But come Sept. 10, voters will select the
top two contenders in a primary. Those frontrunners will then face off
in a final election on Nov. 5 to pick who will take over City Hall on
Dec. 1. Noble and Berns claim the current system favors the two
frontrunners — Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley — by helping
them get the most exposure through televised debates after the primary
Commentaries:• “GOP Continues Playing Politics with Ohioans’ Health”• “Is Ohio’s New License Plate the Worst or Just Bad?”
Cranley has raised more money
than Qualls in the mayoral race, according to campaign finance reports
filed yesterday. Cranley has raised about $472,000, compared to $348,000
for Qualls. Cranley also has about $264,000 in the bank, while the
Qualls campaign has about $192,000 in hand.
Undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children will be eligible for in-state tuition
at Ohio public colleges, following a decision from the Ohio Board of
Regents. The change will save the students thousands of dollars at the
state’s public schools, which were charging exorbitant out-of-state and
international rates before. The undocumented immigrants qualify for
legal benefits because of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama earlier in the year
that prevents the federal government from prosecuting them. The order
falls short of actual legalization on the books, but it grants many benefits under state and federal law.
In quite possibly the worst news ever, Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones announced they’re leaving “Parks and Recreation” after the 13th episode of the upcoming season.
German scientists have proposed a new strategy for combating climate change: turn coastal deserts into forests.
By science, ostriches can now fly:
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Ohio officials announced on July 23 that
they’ll take a hands-off approach to promoting the Affordable Care Act
(“Obamacare”), leaving it to the federal government to inform citizens
about opportunities and benefits provided under the law.
by German Lopez
More JobsOhio controversy, Council undoing cuts, stadium improvements to cost millions
Six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial
ties to companies that have received tax credits and other help from the
agency and state government, an investigation from Dayton Daily News
discovered. The members are connected in various ways: Some are
employed by the companies, others sit on their boards and a few just own
stocks. The conflicts of interest that could undermine
JobsOhio’s goals. The privatized development agency was established by
Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the
Ohio Department of Development. Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized
nature allows it to move at “the speed of business” when luring
companies to the state. But Democrats argue that the agency is
unaccountable and draining state funds without any clear indication of
where the money is going.
Meanwhile, JobsOhio gave financial aid
to a company that simply shifted jobs from one city to another. The
agency gave Timbertech a 50-percent credit to create 85 jobs in
Wilmington, Ohio. The company is abiding, but it’s simultaneously
closing down a Columbus factory at the loss of 58 jobs.
Cincinnati will end up not laying off any city employees after City Council undoes $4 million in budget cuts
with leftover revenue from the previous budget year. The restorations
will reverse some or all of this year’s cuts to human services, parks,
the Health Department and other city programs. Council members called
the higher-than-projected revenue evidence that Cincinnati’s economic
strategy is working. But the reversals also raise questions about the
city administration’s original claims: When the 2014 budget was first
being considered, Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration said the
city would have to lay off 344 workers, including many cops and
firefighters, to balance the budget without the parking lease.
But without any of the parking money allocated, the city managed to avert all layoffs and undo a bulk of cuts, largely by using better-than-expected revenues from the past budget
Fixing up the Great American Ball Park for the All-Star Game could cost county taxpayers $5 million.
The All-Star costs are just one part of the $27 million taxpayers will
pay to improve stadiums in Hamilton County over the next five years.
Stadiums are often touted by local officials as a way to boost the
economy, but economists and urban planners have found that publicly
funded sports arenas don’t lead to sizable economic growth.
Ohio’s job growth is so slow that it will take nearly five years to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading fundraising for this year’s Council campaigns.
The Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce is hosting two mayoral debates.
This year’s candidates are Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, ex-Councilman
John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are
considered the two frontrunners.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is calling on community contributions to finish the second half of its renovations. The museum has raised $2.7 million out of the $6 million it needs.
Red Squirrel, a local restaurant chain, is closing down three of five eateries.
Internet-based psychotherapy apparently works.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 01:17 PM | Permalink
Policy Matters Ohio finds cities, counties will receive $720 million less from state
The recently passed state budget means cities and counties will get even less money from the state, according to a new report from progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
The report looks at “three blows” of cuts to local governments: less direct aid, no money from a now-repealed estate tax and
the beginning of the end of a state subsidy that supported local property taxes. The cuts add up to at least $720 million less over the next
two years than cities and counties got in the past two years, the report finds.
It’s even less money when looking further back in Ohio’s history — specifically before Republican Gov. John Kasich took office.
“Local governments will see $1.5 billion less in tax
revenues and state aid compared with” fiscal years 2010 and 2011, said
Wendy Patton, the report’s author, in a statement. “Fiscal crisis will
continue in many communities.”
Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local government
funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But the latest
state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash in extra
revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that
legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts.
The Republican-controlled state government repealed the
estate tax in the last budget, but some Democrats and local governments
were hopeful at least some of the lost money could be restored this
Casino revenue was supposed to curtail some of the cuts,
but Policy Matters concludes it’s not enough. Casino revenue has also
consistently come under expectations: The state government in 2009
estimated Ohio’s casinos would take in $1.9 billion a year, but that
projection was changed in February to roughly $1 billion a year.
For Cincinnati, the previous round of budget cuts cost the
city more than $22 million in revenues — nearly two-thirds of the
budget gap the city faced for fiscal year 2014. Although the city managed to avoid laying off cops and firefighters as a result, it still had to slash other city services and raise property taxes.
Some city and county officials are trying to persuade the
state government to undo the cuts. In March, Cincinnati Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld gathered officials around the state to launch ProtectMyOhio.com, which lets citizens write directly to the state government about the cuts.
by German Lopez
Ohioans increasingly reliant on public health insurance
A poll analysis released today suggests more than 1.25
million Ohioans between the ages of 18 and 65 are uninsured,
representing about 17 percent of the state’s working-age population.
The poll also found that working-age Ohioans are obtaining
health insurance less through employers and more through public
insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid and veteran benefits.
About two in 10 working-age Ohioans use public programs in 2013, up
from 12 percent in 2006. At the same time, 52 percent now get insurance
through an employer, down from 64 percent in 2006.
The numbers are relatively unchanged from 2012, according to the analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.
Nearly one in 10 of those who did have insurance also reported losing it in the past 12 months.
“Certain groups are more likely to experience insurance
instability,” said Jennifer Chubinski, director of community research at the Health Foundation, in a statement. “Almost half of adults living
below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, African-Americans and
adults with less than a high school education were uninsured currently
or at some point in the past year.”The analysis also concluded that Ohioans with health insurance are generally healthier than those without it.
The results came from the 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll,
which between May 19 and June 2 interviewed 868 Ohio adults by phone.
The poll had a margin of error of 3.3 percent. It was conducted by the
University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research for the Health
The poll’s findings could spur efforts to widen Medicaid eligibility in Ohio, which has become a contentious political issue fueled by mostly Republican opposition and Democratic support.
Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), states are
asked to expand the public insurance program to include everyone at or
below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $15,856 for a
single-person household. If a state agrees, the federal government will
pay for the entire expansion for the first three years then phase its support down
to 90 percent, where it would indefinitely remain.
The offer presents a great deal for the state, according to the
Health Policy Institute of Ohio. The think tank’s analysis found the
expansion would insure roughly half a million Ohioans and generate about
$1.8 billion in revenue for the state in the next decade.
But the Republican-controlled General Assembly rejected the expansion in the state budget, despite Republican Gov. John Kasich’s pleas to embrace the Obamacare initiative.
Legislators say they’re concerned the federal government won’t be
able to uphold its commitment to Medicaid in the future. That, they
argue, would leave Ohioans stranded if the
state is forced to pare back benefits.
The federal government and states have jointly funded Medicaid programs around the nation since 1965. About 57 percent of the cost is carried by the federal government.Still, the legislature will in the fall consider a
standalone bill that would take up the expansion. But that bill will
likely face continued opposition from tea party groups that are
historically opposed to increased government spending at any level.
Whatever the case, legislative approval may be politically prudent: Earlier-reported results from the Ohio Health Issues Poll found 63 percent of Ohioans favor the Medicaid expansion.
by German Lopez
Port wants parking lease money, Ohio No. 2 for job losses, Kasich plans more tax cuts
New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease.
The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use
the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has
been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port
Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city:
It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking
meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire
various private operators from around the country to manage the assets.
The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a
year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and
to plug budget gaps.
Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector
showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state
has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state
actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In
June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans
to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive
taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the
sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into
law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered:
It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised
sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.
A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs
if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The
Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an
oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance
from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking
well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory
loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost
communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the
well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman,
the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in
Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and
second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.
A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates
in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for
Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food
deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.
Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons,
calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100
degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the
afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power
agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.
Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.
Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.
by German Lopez
Environment Ohio finds taxpayers could be forced to pay millions for cleanups
A report released today suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation.
The report from advocacy group Environment Ohio looks at
the costs related to “fracking,” an extraction technique that involves
pumping millions of gallons of water underground to unlock oil and gas
Recent technological advancements have
spurred a boom in fracking, leading to hundreds of new wells in Ohio and
thousands more around the nation.
When oil and gas companies obtain a permit to build a
fracking well, they typically have to provide some financial assurance
to the state in case something goes wrong. In Ohio, that assurance comes
through bonds and specific insurance requirements.
If a well operation is completed without a problem, the cost of the bonds is returned to the operator. If something goes
wrong, the company has to fix the mess before it gets its money back.
But Environment Ohio finds companies in Ohio only have to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well. That’s not enough for a
company to fear the financial consequences of a disaster, which means it could act
recklessly with little disincentive, according to the report.
The report says that could pose a huge cost to taxpayers:
Simply reclaiming a well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands
of dollars. Actually paying for damages, such as contaminated
groundwater and ruined roads, can cost millions.
Under normal circumstances, private and public entities
could sue for the damages, but that’s unrealistic if a well operator goes bankrupt or is otherwise unwilling or
incapable of paying.
Another potential problem: The bond payments are only held by the
state until a well is plugged and the site is reclaimed to the
satisfaction of state operators. That doesn’t account for health and
environmental damages that can surface after a drilling operation ends,
according to the report.
The issues are further compounded by
loopholes, which allow companies to avoid bonding requirements
altogether if they prove they hold a certain amount of in-state assets.
Environment Ohio calls it “an exceedingly easy test to meet.”In what it calls “common sense” reforms, Environment Ohio says the state should impose more
assurances for longer periods of time. The organization favorably cites
other states that require $250,000 in upfront bonds — much higher than
Ohio’s $5,000. For companies, that would mean a much higher financial
hurdle when taking on a fracking project, but the high cost could
provide a powerful incentive to avoid dangerous risks.The report also finds that insurance requirements in the
state are weak, with operators required to fulfill a $5 million
liability cap regardless of whether they’re running one well or 100.
recommends Ohio work to build stricter financial and regulatory
“At a minimum, Ohio needs an adequate severance tax to
fund impacts on communities and provide a cushion for long-term risk
management,” said Wendy Patton, director at left-leaning think tank
Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement released by Environment Ohio.
An oil and gas severance tax was suggested by Republican
Gov. John Kasich to pay for income tax cuts, but Republican legislators
rejected the proposal.
The report’s findings were not exclusive to Ohio. It also
found issues and suggested solutions for other states and the federal
government, including a similar call for stronger bonding requirements on
CityBeat covered the fracking boom and its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed
FitzGerald is urging a coalition effort to begin a long, complicated
petitioning process that could repeal some of the anti-abortion measures
in the two-year state budget.