by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 01:51 PM | Permalink
Council measures increase capital funding, require more transparency
The streetcar project remains on track following today's votes by City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that aim to keep the public informed on the project's progress.The increased funding was previously proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney to fix a $17.4 million budget gap. The money will come from more issued debt and pulled funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. Under state law, none of the capital funding could be used for operating budget expenses, such as police and fire.The accountability measures also 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."The progress reports should be easy-to-understand and made available online to ensure transparency and accountability to City Council and to citizens," the motion reads.Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she abstained from voting on the motion imposing accountability measures.Qualls, who revealed the accountability measures in a press conference prior to today's committee meeting, said the measures will move the streetcar forward and help keep the public informed."I will vote today to continue the streetcar project because we need to continue moving Cincinnati forward," she said. "At the same time, while I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a reboot on the project to instill public confidence in its management."Smitherman did not seem convinced."I believe the administration will be back asking for
more money on the streetcar," he claimed, pointing to pending
litigation with Duke Energy over who is legally obligated to pay for
moving utility lines to accommodate the project.Smitherman and Sittenfeld also criticized their colleagues for not bringing the accountability measures to a vote earlier in the process."You would think seven years ago there would have been a motion like this in front of us," Smitherman said, referencing when City Council first approved the streetcar project.Among the accountability motion's items is an operating plan, which streetcar critics have long demanded. The city administration estimates operating the streetcar will cost about $3.5 million a year, indicating in the past that casino tax revenue would be used to pay for the costs.Supporters say those costs will be outweighed by the city's estimated three-to-one return on investment for the streetcar project — an estimate backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati. Simpson in particular argued the costs will be made up through increased revenue as the streetcar brings in more businesses and residents to Cincinnati.Still, Simpson says those estimates don't matter to streetcar opponents."If it was $5, there would be individuals who don't support this project," she said.Winburn responded by saying he supports the streetcar as a concept, which roused laughter from streetcar supporters in the audience. Throughout the project's many hearings, opponents of the streetcar have often said they support streetcars as a concept — at least until they have to put their support to a vote or commit funding.Still, Winburn added, "Even if you all are wrong, I want to commend you for fighting for what you believe in."The streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a result of "errors in bid documents," according to Qualls.Besides increasing funding, the city is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager of The Banks, to head the streetcar project. Multiple city officials, including Qualls and Quinlivan, have praised Deatrick for his ability to bring down project costs and put large projects on track.The funding currently set for the streetcar will only go to the first phase of the project. The final plan calls for tracks stretching from The Banks to the Cincinnati Zoo."If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from
The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said
it's a project worth doing," Dohoney previously told City Council. "The intention has always
been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go
beyond that."But Smitherman says talk of another phase is financially irresponsible: "I want to indicate to the public that they (the city administration) don't have a budget for the second leg."The funding ordinance and accountability motion must now be approved by a full session of City Council, which has the same voting make-up as the Budget and Finance Committee.If it's approved, the federal government has committed another $5 million to the streetcar that will help restore certain aspects of the project previously cut because of budget concerns.
3 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Against all the odds, naysaying and
obstructionism it’s faced, Cincinnati’s streetcar project is moving
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
A new report found many "megadeals" rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
City Council on June 24 approved
increased funding along with additional accountability measures that
will close a $17.4 million budget gap and keep the streetcar project on
by German Lopez
DOMA struck down, more anti-abortion measures added to budget, local employment rises
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act
today in a broad ruling that requires the federal government to
recognize same-sex marriages for couples who reside in a state where
same-sex marriage is already legal. The ruling effectively extends equal
protection rights to same-sex couples. For gay and
lesbian Ohioans, that means same-sex marriage must be legalized in Ohio
before the federal government is required to recognize it. FreedomOhio
is already aiming to legalize same-sex marriage in the state with an
amendment that could be on the ballot this year, which CityBeat covered in an in-depth report here.
Republican state legislators added another anti-abortion measure
to the state budget yesterday, which will require doctors to perform an
external ultrasound for a heartbeat then inform the patient if one is detected. The provision is in addition to other anti-abortion
measures already in the budget, including less funding for Planned
Parenthood, funding for anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and regulations that will allow the state health director to shut down abortion
clinics. CityBeat covered those measures in further detail here. “This is continuing to go way overboard by a majority obsessed with abortion,” said Rep. Mike Foley (D-Cleveland).
Cincinnati-area employment dramatically increased in May,
up 6,400 from April and 5,400 from the year before, according to new
data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Although the
unemployment rate went up between April and May, it went down year over
year — the measure economists prefer to look at to control for seasonal
factors, such as hiring picking up during the summer because of outdoors
work.StateImpact Ohio says the new tax plan in the proposed 2014-2015 budget could make it more difficult
to pass future school levies. The plan cuts income taxes for all
Ohioans and particularly business owners, but it raises sales and
property taxes to balance the cuts. CityBeat covered the tax plan in further detail here.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
is giving Cincinnati a $37 million loan guarantee for economic and
housing development projects that aim to benefit the region’s neediest.
In a statement, HUD estimated some of the economic development projects
will create at least 350 new jobs.
Cincinnati is continuing efforts to obtain the Wasson Way line, which the city plans to develop into a bike and hike trail.
The other side of the river is getting some love, too: More luxury apartments are coming to Newport.
Cincinnati was ranked No. 9 smartest city in a recent Movoto blog list.
Ohioans may be souring on President Barack Obama. A Quinnipiac University poll found his approval ratings at 40 percent, his lowest grade ever in the state.
Obama proposed an extensive plan to combat climate change yesterday. The plan will not require congressional approval.
The cure for cancer could be found in space. Apparently, microgravity environments are optimal for cancer research.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:20 PM | Permalink
Cincinnati area added about 6,400 jobs
Cincinnati-area employment shot up in May, rising by 6,400 from April and 5,400 year-over-year, according to data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Michael Jones, research director at the University of
Cincinnati Economics Center, says the numbers show the local economy is still growing.
The unemployment rate rose from 6.5 percent in April to 6.8 percent in May, but Jones says it's better to look at year-over-year trends to control for seasonal factors.
Between May 2012 and May this year, the unemployment
rate dropped from 6.9 percent to 6.8 percent, reflecting 200 less people
Job numbers at the state and federal level are
normally adjusted for seasonal factors — such as increased hiring in the
summer as outdoors work picks up — but local numbers aren't.At the state level, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate increased from 6.7 percent in April to 6.9 percent in May, while the nationwide rate rose from 7.1 percent to 7.3 percent.
Jones calls the general trend good, but he
cautions that rising interest rates could make banks and other lenders
skittish about loaning money to businesses and potential home buyers, which could cause the recovery to slow down.
Still, Jones remains optimistic.
"This month has been positive, and I think we've been seeing that this is a growing trend," he says.
by German Lopez
Streetcar vote today, sewer project compromise reached, "megadeals" fail expectations
The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project,
but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the
project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking
the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a
passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power
substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap
today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise
Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a
result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder”
ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that
incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first
place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and
encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor
unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.
Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals”
— massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to
encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the
deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public
officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In
2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above
1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.
As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy
over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city
will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the
deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the
money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development
projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report
looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the
Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence
and unsanitary conditions.
About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job,
and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking
improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the
well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic
President Barack Obama will make a speech
tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is
expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power
plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require
Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.
Plants apparently do math to get through the night.
Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders
from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or
know anyone willing to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 07:13 PM | Permalink
Ohio ranks No. 3 for massive subsidy deals with corporations
is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals” — massive government subsidies to
corporations that are meant to encourage in-state job creation — but a
new report found many of the deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially
touted by public officials. In the Good Jobs First report
released on June 19, Ohio tied with Texas as No. 3 for megadeals,
which Good Jobs First defines as subsidies worth $75 million
or more. Michigan topped the list with 29 deals, followed by New York
with 23.In the Cincinnati area, local and state agencies agreed to pay $196.4 million to Convergys in 2003 and $121 million to General Electric in 2009 to keep and create jobs in the area. It’s
no secret the deal with Convergys went sour for Cincinnati. In December 2011,
the company, which provides outsourced call center services, agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city because the company’s
downtown employment fell below 1,450 — the number of jobs required under
the initial deal. The reimbursement deal also calls for the company to pay an additional $5 million if its downtown employment falls below 500 before 2020.The
Good Jobs First report finds this kind of failure is not exclusive to
the Convergys megadeal or Cincinnati; instead, the report argues that
megadeals are expensive and often fail to live up to
their high costs, some of the deals involve little if any new job
creation,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy in a
statement. “Some are instances of job blackmail, in which a company
threatens to move and gets paid to stay put. Others involve interstate
job piracy, in which a company gets subsidies to move existing jobs
across a state border, sometimes within the same metropolitan area.” For
the jobs that are kept and created, states and cities end up paying
$456,000 on average, with the cheapest deals costing less than $25,000
per job and the most expensive costing more than $7 million per job. The
report finds the number of megadeals per year has doubled since 2008,
on top of getting more expensive in the past three decades. Each
megadeal averaged at about $157 million in the 1980s, eventually rising
to $325 million in the 2000s. The average cost dropped to $260 million
in the 2010s, reflecting the price of deals made in the aftermath of the
Great Recession, which strapped city and state budgets.“These
subsidy awards are getting out of control,” said Philip Mattera,
research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report,
in a statement. “Huge packages that used to be reserved for ‘trophy’
projects creating large numbers of jobs are now being given away more
the report aims to increase transparency for such subsidies, reflecting
an ongoing goal for Good Jobs First. To do this, the organization has
set up a database (www.subsidytracker.org) that anyone can visit to track past, present and future subsidy deals.But
the report claims much of this work should already be done by the
Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which “has been
long-negligent in failing to promulgate regulations for how state and
local governments should account for tax-based economic development
expenditures,” according to a policy sidebar from LeRoy. “If GASB were
to finally promulgate such regulations — covering both programs and
deals — taxpayers would have standardized, comparable statistics about
megadeals and could better weigh their costs and benefits.”
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:13 PM | Permalink
Lease moves parking plan forward
Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The agency announced today that it had signed a lease agreement with the city, putting an end to a four-day controversy over whether the Port would sign the lease to begin with.The Port will now move forward with establishing contracts with the four private companies it will use to operate and upgrade the city's parking assets.What remains unclear is whether the Port actually worked out the problems that supposedly delayed the lease's signing. The Cincinnati Enquirer originally reported that the Port wouldn't sign the lease until it got a financial guarantee from the city that the local government would not cut future funds to the agency. City Council had considered cutting $100,000 out of $700,000 in annual funds to the Port as part of broader cuts to outside agencies in the fiscal year 2014 budget, but the cut to the Port was ultimately eliminated.Port spokesperson Gail Paul said she doesn't know whether the issue is under review, but she pointed out the agreement isn't supposed to address future funding concerns and only sets the terms of the parking lease.In return for the lease, the city is getting a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The city plans to use that money to pay down future budget deficits and fund development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.Critics argue the lease gives up too much control over the city's parking assets and will ultimately hurt downtown and neighborhoods by raising parking meter rates and expanding meter operation hours.Update (1:35 p.m.): Added a comment from Port Authority spokesperson Gail Paul.