by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:17 AM | Permalink
Ohio courts hurt poor, Qualls calls for streetcar hearing, House to vote on budget today
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) found Ohio's poor are regularly victimized by illegal practices in courts that jail the state's poor for failing to pay fines they can't afford. The problem particularly afflicts the state's rural counties, which sometimes openly admit to jailing people even when they can't afford to pay fines. The ACLU says courts need to be more transparent in communicating defendants' rights, provide retroactive credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty and consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and willfulness to pay fines.The streetcar is being threatened by a $22.7 million budget gap, and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who is running for mayor and has long supported the streetcar, is calling a meeting to get all the details on how the project got here and whether it's still economically viable. Qualls says it's too soon to jump to conclusions about the project's fate, and she says she would like to see the options and details laid out by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. at the hearing. But Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, is already using the news to call for the project's demise. The streetcar is one of few issues dividing the Democratic candidates in the mayoral race, which the latest poll has Qualls leading by 14 points.The Ohio House is expected to vote on a budget
today that would defund Planned Parenthood, ban comprehensive sex
education and fund crisis pregnancy centers that promote
abstinence-only, anti-abortion education. This week, the budget has been
regularly mocked by Democrats for potentially opening teachers to lawsuits if
they explain condoms, other forms of birth control and other basic sex facts to students in a
way that could lead to "gateway sexual activity."The Ohio House budget bill also fails to expand Medicaid — a failing that Moody's is warning could put hospitals at risk for budgetary shortfalls. The report points out that hospitals were supposed to get more patients through a Medicaid expansion, which would be funded almost entirely by the federal government through Obamacare, to make up for a reduction of federal reimbursements for uncompensated care. The Medicaid expansion would have insured 456,000 Ohioans and saved the state money, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.For student voters, the Ohio House budget bill would also make it more difficult to vote by forcing public universities to withhold essential documents that can be used as voter identification. The rule would make it so universities have to declare students in-state for tuition purposes when issuing them a letter or utility bill to vote, effectively costing universities extra revenue from out-of-state students if they choose to issue the documents. Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde says the move will likely make it so universities never hand over the documents.This week's CityBeat commentary: "Bad Budget Ideas Confound Public Discourse."As the city wrestles with laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig is considering a potential job offer in Detroit "very carefully." Craig interviewed for the top cop position in Detroit last week. "I'm humbled they would consider me a top candidate," Craig told The Cincinnati Enquirer.A new poll found Republican Gov. John Kasich in "reasonably good shape" for re-election, beating potential challenger Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald 46-37.Disbarred attorney Stan Chesley resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to by fellow board members.Metro announced new direct, crosstown routes yesterday. The routes will make it easier to travel from the east to west side and vice versa.The Business Courier has a look at the top 10 worst-paying Cincinnati jobs.Five to 15 were killed and more than 150 were injured in a Texas fertilizer plant explosion yesterday.Even though a majority of 54 voted in favor and only 46 voted against it, the background checks bill for gun buyers failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, failing to overcome what was essentially a filibuster. Ohio's senators were split on the issue, with Sen. Rob Portman voting against the bill and Sen. Sherrod Brown voting in favor. Universal background checks are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans, according to a poll from The New York Times and CBS.Scientists have found magnetic brain stimulation could remove cravings for cigarettes.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls calls for public hearing to discuss project
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is
threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo,
the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4
million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new
funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26
million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working
with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific
proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and
private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long
supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting
will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if
the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to
conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a
serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need
to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon
fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to
this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what
costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but
also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both
for the public.”But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime
opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement
today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people
of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms.
Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for
the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring
the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of
legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking
assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help
balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city,
including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the
streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are
challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council
regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However,
even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far
outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study
after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these
same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the
proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have
changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must
continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects
that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”
by German Lopez
Streetcar faces $22.7m budget gap, bill would restrict sex education, councilman resigns
In a memo to the mayor and City Council members last night, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed the streetcar is facing a $22.7 million shortfall because construction bids were way over budget. The memo says $5.3 million of that budget gap could be brought down through cuts, but fixing the rest requires $17.4 million in additional funds. The memo comes at a time the city is attempting to balance its operating budget by laying off cops and firefighters. But as John Deatrick explained when the city moved to hire him for the streetcar project, the streetcar is part of the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget and can't be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.The budget bill heading to the Ohio House floor would ban comprehensive sex education, defund Planned Parenthood and fund crisis pregnancy centers that pro-choice groups consider "anti-choice." Citing "gateway sexual activity," the bill would open teachers to up to $5,000 in fines for explaining the use of condoms and other birth control to students, and it also bans the distribution of any birth control on school grounds. The bill takes its anti-contraceptive measures to promote an abstinence-only education program. Research has found abstinence-only programs to be generally ineffective, while birth control programs ultimately save money by avoiding costly pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection treatment.Councilman Cecil Thomas is stepping down, and he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas. The appointment has raised questions about how council members are replaced upon resignation, but Thomas says he's just following the rules. Under the current system, designees appoint successors to council seats, but the designees give great weight to the incumbent's input.JobsOhio repaid $8.4 million to Ohio yesterday — fulfilling a promise it made in March that it would fully repay the state for public funding received since it opened on July 5, 2011. The sum is much higher than the $1 million state officials originally said would go to the agency. JobsOhio's finances came under criticism after it was revealed that Gov. John Kasich was redirecting public funds to the agency, prompting a closer look from State Auditor Dave Yost. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republicans established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.In light of the Boston Marathon bombings, Flying Pig Marathon organizers are evaluating security measures, but they're not sure whether additional measures are needed just yet. The Flying Pig Marathon is expected to draw more than 20,000 participants on May 5 — close to the 23,000 who typically attend the Boston Marathon. Still, only about 150,000 spectators are expected at the Flying Pig Marathon, while about 500,000 typically spectate the Boston Marathon.City Council is expected to vote today in support of expanding mobile food vending in the city and make the program, which is handled by 3CDC, permanent. The new mobile vending spots will be near nightlife areas in Over-the-Rhine and during the day at Washington Park.TriHealth and Mercy Health are among the top 15 hospital systems in the United States, according to a new ranking from Truven Health Analytics.When renewing its contract with Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Kroger asked the company to move its center from Des Moines, Iowa, to Cincinnati, bringing an estimated 55 new jobs to the city.New surgical tape works like a parasitic worm for extra stickiness.For the first time, scientists are being allowed to study psychedelics for potential medical treatments.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 10, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee on April 8 moved forward with two controversial measures that
will create an executive project director position for the streetcar
project while allowing the city to rehire retirees while still paying
by German Lopez
Local casino tops revenue, streetcar could get new director, Medicaid expansion to fail
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino topped state casino revenues last month,
translating to $1.4 million in casino tax revenue for the city in
March. If the trend holds — a huge if, considering March was opening
month for the Horseshoe Casino — the city would get $16.8 million a
year, which would be above previous estimates from the state and city
but below estimates presented in mayoral candidate John Cranley’s budget plan.
Cranley and other city officials say casino revenue could be used to
avoid laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, but the
city manager’s office says it wouldn’t be enough.Two City Council decisions yesterday will allow the current project manager for The Banks to take over the streetcar project.
The two 5-4 decisions from City Council came in the middle of a tense
budget debate that could end with the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. But John Deatrick, who could be
hired as executive director of the streetcar project as a result of the
measures, says his salary would come from the capital budget, which is
separate from the general fund that needs to be balanced in light of
structural deficit problems.
House Republicans are poised to reject
Gov. John Kasich’s proposed Medicaid expansion. The expansion, which
was part of Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget proposal, would have saved the
state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health
Policy Institute of Ohio. But it would have done so mostly with federal
funds, which state legislators worry will not be there years down the
line. The Medicaid expansion was one of the few aspects of Kasich’s
budget that state Democrats supported. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
PolitiFact Ohio gave Kasich a “Pants on Fire” rating
for his claim that his transportation budget and Ohio Turnpike plan “would make sure we have lower tolls than we’ve had through the history
of the turnpike.” PolitiFact explains: “Yes, the bill aims to keep tolls
from rising faster than the pace of inflation -- a practice that would
stand in contrast to KPMG’s findings from the past 20 years. And, yes,
the bill freezes tolls for 10 years on a small, targeted cross-section
of turnpike users. But not only are higher tolls a part of Kasich’s
plan, they are integral to the concept. The increased revenue will allow
the state to issue bonds to finance other projects. Furthermore, the
inflation cap is not written into the law, and the state has an out from
the local EZ-Pass freeze.”
Melissa Wegman will be the third Republican
to enter the City Council race. Wegman is a first-time candidate and
businesswoman from East Price Hill. She will be joining fellow
Republicans Amy Murray and incumbent Charlie Winburn.The struggling Kenwood Towne Place will be renamed Kenwood Collection as part of a broader redesign.
One program in President Barack Obama’s budget plan would task NASA with pulling asteroids to our moon’s orbit,
where the asteroids could then be studied and mined. The Obama
administration says the program will only involve small asteroids, so
big, killer asteroids will not be purposely hurled towards Earth.
New evidence suggests some two-legged dinosaurs were strong swimmers, further proving that unless we have extra asteroids to cause an extinction event, we might want to leave them dead.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:26 PM | Permalink
City Council committee passes measure allowing “double dipping”
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee moved forward
with two controversial measures in two 5-4 votes today that will allow the
city to rehire retirees while still paying their pensions and create an
executive project director position for the streetcar project.One of the measures repeals the city’s ban on “double dipping,”
which means rehired retirees will be able to
simultaneously cash in a salary and pension payments. The measures will allow the city to hire John Deatrick, the
current project manager for The Banks, to head the streetcar project.
The city could not previously hire Deatrick because he formally retired
from the city and is currently receiving pension payments.
The city says Deatrick has the experience and expertise
necessary to help bring the streetcar project’s costs in line, but
critics say the city should not be hiring someone for the streetcar
project when the city is considering laying off 344 employees, including
189 cops and 80 firefighters, to balance the budget.
Deatrick says the layoffs are unfortunate, but he
emphasizes that they are occurring through the general fund. If he was
hired, Deatrick’s salary would be paid through the capital budget, a
completely separate fund that the city uses for major development
projects. Because of legal and traditional constraints, capital budget funds generally can’t be used to balance the general fund.
“The capital budget generates projects that bring money into the general fund,” Deatrick says.
Deatrick’s point is similar to an argument often touted by City Manager Milton
Dohoney Jr., who says the city needs to economically grow out of structural budget
deficits. Dohoney and other city officials say the true cause of Cincinnati’s
structural budget imbalance has been the city’s dwindling population in
the past decade, and bringing people back to Cincinnati through economic
development projects, including the streetcar, is a better approach than austerity that would cause more
layoffs and economic pain.
Others, particularly Democratic mayoral candidate John
Cranley, aren’t convinced. In a press statement that used vocabulary that often comes from streetcar opponent COAST (Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes), Cranley said, “Since day one the
streetcar has been a poorly conceived, poorly managed boondoggle that is
now costing the city even more money. The fact that this being done
while police officers and firefighters are facing layoffs is a slap in
the face of those who risk so much to make sure that our city is safe.”
But the city says Deatrick’s involvement could help bring
the streetcar project’s costs down, and Deatrick seems to agree. “That’s
been my whole ‘shtick,’ ” Deatrick says, before citing numerous aspects
of the streetcar project he would be interested in looking at to
bring costs in line.Opponents have pointed to the streetcar’s multiple problems, including unexpected costs and delays, as proof the project has been doomed from the start. But Deatrick says it’s normal for big projects to deal with hurdles, and he cautions he would expect to deal with more rising problems if he takes the job.
“Any time you try to build something — even out in the
middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated
issues,” he says. “These things happen, and that’s what project
management is all about.”
Deatrick says he has long supported the streetcar, and he
plans to expand the project up to the University of Cincinnati and the
rest of the uptown area if he’s put in charge.
While Deatrick has discussed heading the streetcar project with
city officials, no formal offers have been made yet. Still, City Council members
and Dohoney repeatedly named Deatrick as a potential candidate in the
special session of City Council today.
Some council members said they were concerned the double-dipping measure will be
used for more similar hires in the future, which could raise
hiring costs as the city pays for multiple employees’ salaries and
pensions at the same time.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure
Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young supported the
measures. Democrats Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican
Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman voted in opposition.
Deatrick’s resume shows experience going back decades.
Since June 2008, Deatrick has headed The Banks project, which recently
won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning
Excellence Award for Implementation (“Bank On It,” issue of Jan. 16).
Before that, he worked as deputy director and chief
engineer at the District of Columbia Department of Transportation from
May 2002 to August 2007, where he says he helped manage parts of the
D.C. streetcar, among other projects.
Prior to his work at D.C., Deatrick started his career as an urban development
technician at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering on September 1973. He helped with many projects around the city before eventually rising to the director position in
November 1999, where he remained until May 2002.
The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing Democratic
mayoral candidates Cranley and Qualls, making the 2013 mayoral race
another important election for the future of the project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should redirect funding from the streetcar to the MLK/I-71 Interchange, but the funding is specifically attached to the streetcar project.
by German Lopez
Federal grants tied to streetcar, transit projects
The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3. The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar:
“Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley
lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations
and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use,
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that
curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects,
according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit
improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow
improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project,
but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is
defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies
and investments that increase transportation choices and access to
transportation services for people in communities across the United
States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I
believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the
governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because
that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place
doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley
and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally
supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City
Council motions, but Cranley says those motions,
which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the
merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the
first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually
build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept
in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a
way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from
what I thought were more important priorities.”
2 Comments · Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I’ve been a longtime supporter of the
streetcar project, but I have to admit I’m a bit worried after finding
out the streetcar might be delayed once again because construction bids
for the project were way over budget.
How the new streetcar’s story will differ from the one that ended 60 years ago
1 Comment · Wednesday, February 20, 2013
After signing a utility relocation
agreement with Duke Energy on Feb. 1, Cincinnati City Manager Milton
Dohoney, Jr. declared, “The streetcar is happening.”