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Streetcar Plan Moves Forward

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 track.    
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 06.24.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Economy, City Council, Commissioners at 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

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 indicators. 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 congressional action. 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 glopez@citybeat.com.
 
 
by German Lopez 06.21.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
streetcar

Feds Commit Another $5 Million to Streetcar Project

City Council expected to vote on budget updates Monday

Cincinnati's streetcar project is getting another $5 million in federal funding. But before the money is handed over, the city must first eliminate cost overruns that have recently put the project in danger.U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood unveiled the news in a letter to Mayor Mark Mallory dated June 19. The letter acknowledges the project's recent cost overruns, but goes on to claim the federal government still backs the project."The DOT (Department of Transportation) continues to support your bold vision for economic development and enhanced transportation choices for the city of Cincinnati, and we believe that this project is a significant component of that vision. With that in mind, I want to provide up to $5 million in additional assistance from DOT," LaHood wrote.But the money comes with two conditions: The city must first fix the streetcar project's cost overruns and restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view.The $5 million will be on top of the nearly $40 million the federal government has already contributed to the project through various grants and programs.The funding bump comes just in time for City Council's Monday vote on the streetcar project's cost overruns.In February, the city received construction bids that were $26 million to $43 million over budget, effectively leading to a $17.4 million budget gap and a $133 million overall cost for the project.Since then, City Manager Milton Dohoney proposed a few fixes to City Council, including pulling funding from various capital projects and issuing more debt.At the same time, Dohoney told City Council the city administration was working with federal officials to find opportunities for more federal funding. The new commitment is presumably the result of those discussions.City Council is expected to vote on the budget fixes Monday. So far, council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Laure Quinlivan have vowed support, but Council will need a fifth vote — perhaps from Chris Seelbach or Pam Thomas — to pass the changes.Read the full letter below:   Streetcar Letter to Mayor MalloryUpdate (3:55 p.m.): This story was updated with additional context.
 
 
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 06.10.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Budget, Development at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City advances without parking plan, Kasich on budget defense, Seelbach questions Cranley

Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Even without the parking plan, the city passed a budget with no public safety layoffs and is moving forward with plans for the Uptown interchange project, a downtown grocery store, a new garage to replace Pogue’s Garage, Wasson Way and the Smale Riverfront Park. The turnaround has prompted some critics to question whether city officials were being honest when they cited a list of potential problems if the city failed to semi-privatize its parking assets to raise funds, but Mayor Mark Mallory and supporters say a lot changed between the time the threats were made and now, including tax revenues coming in at $4.5 million better than projected. The Columbus Dispatch says Gov. John Kasich has found himself “playing defense” in the current budget cycle — a sharp contrast to the budget cycle in 2011. Both the Ohio House and Senate have greatly changed Kasich’s original budget plan. Instead of taking up Kasich on his plan to expand the sales tax while lowering the rate, cut income taxes by 20 percent across the board and cut small business taxes, the House approved a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut and the Senate replaced the House plan with a tax cut aimed at small businesses. Both chambers also rejected the Kasich-backed, federally funded Medicaid expansion and the governor’s education funding plan. Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach says he was yelled and sworn at for several minutes by Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s campaign manager following open questions about whether Cranley is still a Democrat. Cranley has long opposed the city’s streetcar project and parking plan, which have both received support from a majority of Democrats in City Council, and tacitly supports Amy Murray, a Republican City Council candidate. Estimates for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino improved last month, coming in at $2 million more than April’s estimates. The $20 million estimate is still nearly $2 million less than the casino received on opening month. Former mayor Eugene Ruehlman died Saturday night at the age of 88. Ohio gas prices remain at nearly $4 this week, above the national average. The self-proclaimed “whistleblower” who leaked details about two NSA surveillance programs has revealed himself in Hong Kong. Apparently Kings Island is open, and Adventure Express was evacuated due to a “mechanical problem.” The latest design for skateboard wheels is a square. Cold War-era radiation apparently has the answer for whether adults keep making new brain cells.
 
 
by German Lopez 06.05.2013
Posted In: News, Abortion, Privatization, Streetcar at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Another anti-abortion amendment, Kasich prevents JobsOhio audit, streetcar funds remain

Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.The Ohio Senate proposed a budget amendment yesterday that would ban abortion providers from transferring patients to public hospitals. The rule continues a series of conservative pushes on social issues in the ongoing budget process that began in the Ohio House. The Ohio House budget bill effectively defunded Planned Parenthood and funded anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, while the Ohio Senate accepted those measures and added another rule that potentially allows the health director to shut down abortion clinics. Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill that will prevent a full public audit of JobsOhio, the private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The bill defines liquor profits, which were public funds before JobsOhio, and private funds in a way that bars the state auditor from looking into any funding sources that aren’t owed to the state. Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Kasich to veto the bill, claiming, “The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable.” The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) says the $4 million going to the streetcar is a done deal. Republican county commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann tried to get OKI to pull the funds, but there now seems to be a general consensus that the money is contractually tied to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and, therefore, the streetcar project. City Council is likely to consider a plan to plug the streetcar project’s budget gap later this month. Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is handing out marijuana plants at a campaign event today, even though the event may run foul of state law. Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally considered the top contenders in this year’s mayoral race, but Berns has differentiated himself by putting marijuana legalization in his platform. While drug prohibition policies are generally dictated at state and federal levels, cities can decriminalize or legalize certain drugs and force police departments to give prohibition enforcement lower priority. Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is retiring July 1 following controversial remarks about “those damn Catholics,” the University of Notre Dame and others. Gee, a Mormon, says he has regrets, but the gaffes didn’t compel him to retire. In a statement, OSU credited Gee with helping the school build an academic profile of a “highly selective, top-tier public research institution.” Local officials cut the ribbon yesterday for the Roebling Bridge, the latest piece of infrastructure to debut at The Banks. Fort Hamilton Hospital has a new president. Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has loaned more than any other big bank in the country, according to a new study. How do mosquitoes survive storms? Popular Science has the answer. Researchers unveiled a drone that can be controlled by thoughts. Next stop: the Iron Man suit.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.31.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Budget, Streetcar at 09:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

State could block JobsOhio audit, council approves budget, streetcar budget fixes in June

The Ohio Senate sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that prevents the state auditor from auditing private funds at JobsOhio and other publicly funded private entities. State Auditor Dave Yost has been pursuing a full audit of JobsOhio in the past few months, but state Republicans, led by Kasich, have opposed the audit. Ohio Democrats were quick to respond to the bill by asking what JobsOhio and Republicans have to hide. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency established by Kasich and Republican legislators meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development. City Council passed an operating budget yesterday that slashes several city services but prevents laying off cops and firefighters. Human services funding, which goes to programs that aid the homeless and poor, is getting some of the largest cuts, continuing what Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition says is a decade-long trend that has brought down human services funding from 1.5 percent of the budget to 0.3 percent. The budget also makes cuts to other programs and raises property taxes and several fees. City Council will likely vote in June on how to fix the streetcar budget gap. So far, the only known plan is the city manager’s proposal, which would pull funding from various capital funding sources. The streetcar budget is part of the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law. The Ohio Senate budget bill increases education funding over the Ohio House bill. The Senate bill raises the limit on how much a school district can see its state funding increase, potentially putting fast-growing suburban schools at an advantage. The House and Senate bills use a model that gives schools base funding for each pupil — a model entirely different from Kasich’s proposal, which critics labeled wrongheaded and regressive. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of Elections that will send 39 more “double voters” to the prosecutor. In most cases, the “double voter” filed an absentee ballot and voted in-person with a provision ballot on Election Day. The provisional ballots always ended up being tossed out, but Republicans say they want to find out if there were any bad intentions. Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke, who’s also head of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, called Husted’s decision a “travesty,” labeling the investigation a “witch hunt, aimed at scaring the hell out of voters.” Husted, a Republican, said the cases at least deserve an investigation, even if they don’t lead to an indictment. Mayor Mark Mallory and local business leaders are calling on Congress to take up immigration reform, which they argue will come as a boost to the economy. “In order to continue to have the strongest economy in the world, we need to have the most innovative and creative ideas being developed right here in Cincinnati and across the country,” Mallory said in a statement. “That requires the best and brightest talent from around the globe being welcomed to our country through a fair and sound system of immigration.” WVXU says the list of local bike friendly destinations keeps growing. Traveling to Mars could get someone fried by radiation.
 
 

Commissioners’ Proposed Streetcar Cut Ignores the Basics

1 Comment · Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Commissioners' proposal to cut streetcar funding not only ignores contractual obligations, but it neglects the federal grant's sole purpose.  
by German Lopez 05.24.2013
Posted In: News, Marijuana, Streetcar, Voting at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_weedunicorn

Morning News and Stuff

Medical marijuana advances, commissioners threaten streetcar, voter fraud report released

If you have any questions about Cincinnati, CityBeat’s staff will do its very best to answer if you submit them here. The Ohio Ballot Board certified an amendment that would legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp in Ohio. Petitioners will now have to gather 385,253 signatures to get the issue on the ballot — most likely this year or 2014. CityBeat previously covered Ohio’s medical marijuana movement in greater detail here. Republican county commissioners are asking the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana Regional Council of Governments to pull $4 million in streetcar funding, but the city says OKI can’t legally do it. Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel, who are also members of the OKI board, made the request in a letter. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says OKI was simply an agency that passed the money along as it worked through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to OKI to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transportation Authority (SORTA), and the agreement doesn’t allow OKI to interfere any further. This morning, the city’s Twitter account tweeted, “City has confirmed with Feds that OKI cannot pull streetcar $ bc funds are already obligated to this federal project.” Ohio released its first ever statewide report on voter fraud yesterday, called the “Post-2012 General Election Voter Fraud Report.” Secretary of State Jon Husted said the report shows voter fraud exists, but it’s “not an epidemic.” That coincides with previous findings from researchers: An extensive study of the nation’s databases by News21, a Carnegie-Knight journalism initiative, found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Ohio Democrats are proposing more accountability rules for JobsOhio, including adherence to public record laws, open meeting laws, state ethics laws for employees and full state audits. JobsOhio is a privatized nonprofit agency established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development. They claim the privatized nature of the agency allows it to respond to economic problems more quickly, but Democrats say the agency redirects public funds with minimal oversight. Cincinnati will host a march against genetically modified organisms Saturday as part of the international March Against Monsanto. The movement’s organizers are calling on participants that explain the facts of genetically modified organisms, encouraging “no slandering, no opinions or paper — just facts.” The protest is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Piatt Park. A.G. Lafley is reclaiming the top spot at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. The company says the change is not part of a deeper issue. The 35th annual Taste of Cincinnati begins tomorrow. Win or lose, the University of Cincinnati baseball team has a lot of fun. An adorable Labrador Retriever puppy had her heart cured after a minimally invasive heart procedure — the first ever in the Tri-State. Salamanders have some lessons for humans when it comes to regrowing limbs.
 
 

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