WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
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.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.20.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Transportation at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pirg report

Research Group: U.S. Driving Boom Is Over

As local officials struggle with streetcar and interchange, report demands new direction

Americans are driving less, and fewer Americans are driving, according to a May 14 report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), an advocacy organization. For Cincinnati, the trend might justify a recent shift in public policy that embraces more transportation options, including more bike lanes and a streetcar. “Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term,” the report reads. “The unique combina­tion of conditions that fueled the Driving Boom — from cheap gas prices to the rapid expansion of the workforce during the Baby Boom generation — no longer exists. Meanwhile, a new generation — the Mil­lennials — is demanding a new American Dream less dependent on driving.” The report also says U.S. transportation policy “remains stuck in the past” and needs to “hit the ‘reset’ button.” The report, which uses U.S. Department of Transportation data from 2012, found Americans were driving about 9,000 miles a year per person in 2012, down from a peak of nearly 10,000 in 2004. Until the peak, Americans had been driving more miles each year since the end of World War II. The report finds the driving trend at odds with other means of transportation: “On the other hand, Americans took nearly 10 percent more trips via public transportation in 2011 than we did in 2005. The nation also saw increases in commuting by bike and on foot.” The report attributes much of the shift to millennials, members of the generation born between 1983 and 2000, which the report says are more likely to demand public transportation and urban and walkable neighborhoods. The new expectations are largely driven by Internet-connected technologies, which are “rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving,” according to the report. PIRG finds the trend will likely stick as gas prices continue to rise, fewer Americans participate in the labor force and Americans demands less time spent in travel. Even if millennials begin driving more in the future, the report’s findings show Americans are going to be driving much less in 2040 than federal agencies currently assume. “This raises the question of whether changing trends in driving are being adequately fac­tored into public policy,” the report reads. The report concludes local, state and federal governments should react to the new trend by planning for uncertainty, accommodating millennials’ demands, reviewing the need for more highway projects, adapting federal priorities, using transportation funds based on cost-benefit analyses and conducting more transportation research. For Cincinnati, the trend could have implications for two major transportation projects: the MLK/I-71 Interchange and the streetcar. The streetcar project uses capital funding sources — some uniquely tied to mass transit projects — that some opponents argue should be reallocated to support the MLK/I-71 Interchange project. But the report’s findings seem to support the city’s current plans to push forward with mass transit projects like the streetcar, even while local funding for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project remains uncertain. After making changes based on feedback from public meetings, the Ohio Department of Transportation priced the interchange project at $80 million to $102 million, or $10 million to $32 million higher than the previous estimate of $70 million. The higher price didn’t lead to the same outcry that resulted from the streetcar project’s $17.4 million cost overrun, likely because of the interchange project’s broader support, secure state funding and feedback-driven circumstances. Still, the city could share some of the higher cost burden for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project. Previously, the city planned to use funds raised by leasing its parking assets to the Port Authority for the interchange, but that plan is currently being held up in court. In 2012, the city adopted Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan since 1980. The plan advocates for more alternative methods of public transportation, particularly light rail and bike lanes. But the master plan does not establish means of funding, so City Council will have to approve funding over time to implement the plan.
 
 

City Council Scrutinizes Streetcar Budget Fixes

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on May 13, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap.  

Worst Week Ever!: May 8-14

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
WEDNESDAY MAY 8: Some people would rather go to jail than have to set foot inside a mall. Thanks to a recently announced event by the Springdale Police Department and several other local agencies, the two experiences will become more alike starting next week.  

A Streetcar Named a Failure

6 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Forget the bickering, back-and-forth and ballot measures. What we’re now doing — and I use “we” to mean whomever accesses city coffers or pulls capital and/or operating budget purse strings — is putting the streetcar before public good and public interest.   
by German Lopez 05.14.2013
Posted In: Anna Louise Inn, Streetcar, News, Police at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jamescraig

Morning News and Stuff

Police chief leaving to Detroit, council scrutinizes streetcar, Anna Louise Inn sold

The city confirmed today that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig will be leaving Cincinnati to take a job in Detroit. During Craig’s time, the city experienced a significant drop in crime. City officials praised Craig for his attempts to forge better ties between the Cincinnati Police Department and local communities, particularly by establishing the External Advisory Committee, a group of active local community members and business leaders that gives advice on the police department’s policies and procedures. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the city will begin a nationwide search for Craig’s replacement tomorrow. Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) is selling the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million, and CUB will be relocating the Inn’s services to Mount Auburn. Many Anna Louise Inn supporters are taking the sale as a sign Western & Southern won, while others are glad the extensive legal battles are finally over. The sale came after years of Western & Southern obstructing the planned renovations for the Anna Louise Inn through court battles and other legal challenges, which CityBeat covered here. In a Q&A with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Western & Southern CEO John Barrett reflected on the events, saying his company took the “high road” throughout the controversy — a claim many Anna Louise Inn supporters dispute. City Council grilled Dohoney yesterday over fixing the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overruns to save the project is worth it. Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that touted the streetcar project’s return on investment, which was further supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati. Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much and the project, which now stands at $133 million, is too expensive. A final decision is expected by the end of May. The streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fix the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law. The city and county governments are clashing over the city’s hiring policies for companies bidding on the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD) construction projects. The city’s laws require construction firms to have apprenticeship programs, which the city says promotes job training on top of employment. But the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners claims the requirements aren’t feasible and put too much of a strain on companies. Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune questioned why the city’s policy only applies to MSD and not other local government agencies. The Duke Energy Garden is the latest addition to the Smale Riverfront Park. A Catholic teacher union will not support Carla Hale, a gay Columbus-area teacher who was fired after she named her girlfriend in an obituary for her mother. Hale says she was fired over her sexuality, but the Catholic Church says she was fired for revealing a “quasi-spousal relationship” outside of marriage. The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, which means all gay couples are in a non-marital relationship under the Church’s desired policies.The Internal Revenue Service scandal, which involves IRS officials unfairly scrutinizing conservative groups, is now nationwide. Previous reports pinned the practice on a Cincinnati field office, but numerous IRS offices around the country, including one in Washington, D.C., were found to be guilty of the practice in documents acquired by The Washington Post. Headline from The Columbus Dispatch: “Man who killed wife, then self: ‘I couldn’t take her mouth anymore.’” The brain catches grammar errors even when a person doesn’t realize it.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.13.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Scrutinizes Streetcar Budget Fixes

City manager, council members discuss streetcar funding

At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it. Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23). Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is too expensive. In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino. Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project. Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan after it was explained to him. Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes. A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope. “For major projects like this … there is usually an anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said. For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place. Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and begins actual work on the project. But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government. Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no. When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end. Smitherman asked how the city administration can be pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a vote of council is dead?” Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council. Ending the project would come with its own costs of about $72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent, $14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants that would have to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney. Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits, particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011. “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 said. “The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that.” But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a success by itself. Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees. But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
 
 

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