WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Poverty, Pensions at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative

Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied" childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center, but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees, such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much less a $5,000 car allowance. The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.
 
 

Pension Amendment to Appear on November Ballot

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Despite unanimous opposition, City Council on Sept. 3 fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and voted to allow a controversial pension amendment to appear on the ballot this November.   
by German Lopez 09.03.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Pensions at 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Pension Amendment to Appear on November Ballot

City Council reluctantly allows ballot initiative to move forward

Despite unanimous opposition, City Council fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and voted to allow a controversial pension amendment to appear on the ballot this November. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls explained that all council members oppose the amendment, but it’s part of City Council’s ministerial duties to allow ballot initiatives if petitioners gather enough signatures to put the issue to a public vote. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced on Aug. 12 that petitioners had gathered enough signatures to clear the 7,443 requirement. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials oppose the amendment. They say it will cost the city more and hurt retirement gains for city employees. One new concern: As written, the amendment could force the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to revoke tax-exempt status for city employees’ retirement plans. Paula Tilsley, executive director of the Cincinnati Retirement System, says the new tax burden would force someone in a lower tax bracket with $100,000 in retirement savings to immediately pay $15,000 in taxes. Supporters of the amendment, including out-of-state tea party groups, argue it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s present and future pension liabilities, which currently stand at $862 million. The current liability is a result of two issues: City Council has underfunded the pension system by varying degrees since at least 2003, and economic downturns have hurt investments in the city’s pension system. That outstanding liability was one of the factors that led Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, to downgrade Cincinnati’s bond rating on July 15. City officials say they’ve already taken steps to resolve future costs and the only remaining concern is how to pay for the current liability. In 2011, City Council raised the retirement age and reduced pension benefits for city employees and retirees. “This council adopted some of the most sweeping changes to any public pension system in the country for current and future employees,” Qualls said. Councilman Chris Smitherman clarified he doesn’t support the proposed amendment, but he says City Council has done a poor job with the current pension system. “My recommendation to this council is to put forth a solution to solve the problem,” Smitherman said. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t say, ‘This is bad,’ and then underfund the pension.” Tilsley says the pension board will make recommendations to City Council within a month to address the current pension liability. The board estimates the changes would keep the system 100 percent funded after 30 years. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that might be behind it in further detail here.Updated (2:17 p.m.): Updated to reflect the full City Council vote.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.20.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Pensions at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tea party pensions

Pension Amendment Has No Council Support

Tea party-backed reform would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system

Councilman Chris Smitherman told CityBeat he doesn’t support the pension amendment that will appear on the ballot this November, which means no council member approves of the controversial proposal. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials and unions claim the amendment will cost the city more and hurt retirement gains for public employees. Tea party groups say the amendment is necessary to address the city’s growing pension costs, including an $862 million unfunded liability. “I do not support the amendment. I have introduced several solutions that have been ignored by council and your paper,” Smitherman wrote in an email. The other eight members of City Council — seven Democrats and one Republican — on Aug. 7 approved a resolution that condemned the tea party amendment. But Smitherman, an Independent, wasn’t present at the meeting. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.15.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Emery Theatre, Governor at 09:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Outsiders back pension reform, Requiem could be evicted, JobsOhio conflicted in interests

Local and national tea party groups are pushing a ballot initiative that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system by moving city workers from a public plan to 401k-style plans, but city officials and unions are urging voters to reject the measure because they claim it would raise costs for the city and reduce gains for retirees. Cincinnati for Pension Reform paid Arno Petition Consultants nearly $70,000 to gather enough signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. It’s so far unclear where that money came from. Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund, which is supporting a similar pension proposal in Tucson, Ariz., is backing the Cincinnati effort, with one of two blog posts on its website praising the local initiative. Liberty Initiative Fund has given at least $81,000 to the Tucson campaign. For more information about the Cincinnati campaign and initiative, click here. Hamilton County Judge Carl Stitch on Wednesday ruled against granting a temporary restraining order that would prevent the trio that owns and leases the Emery Theatre from evicting the nonprofit seeking to renovate the building. The ruling means Requiem Project, which was founded in 2008 to renovate the theater, might be kicked out by the University of Cincinnati, Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP) and the Emery Center Corporation (ECC), the groups that own and lease the Emery Theatre. Still, the judge said that the ruling should in no way indicate what the final outcome of the case will be and it could turn out that Requiem deserves a long-term lease. Gov. John Kasich received campaign donations from and served on the board of Worthington Industries, a central Ohio steel processor, before the company got tax credits from JobsOhio, the privatized development agency. Kasich’s spokesperson told the Associated Press that the governor severed ties with Worthington before the tax deals were approved. Still, the latest discovery adds to a series of conflicts of interest that have mired JobsOhio in the past few weeks. Previously, Dayton Daily News found that most of the board members on JobsOhio had direct financial ties to some of the companies getting state aid. Republicans defend JobsOhio because they say its privatized and secretive nature allows it to carry out job-creating development deals more quickly, but Democrats say the agency is too difficult to hold accountable and might be wasting taxpayer money. Commentary: “Disparity Study Now.” State officials are looking to tighten limits for local governments passing budgets, issuing debt and funding pensions. State Rep. Lou Terhar, a Republican from Cincinnati, and State Auditor Dave Yost say the proposal is aimed at correcting pension problems such as the one in Cincinnati, which Yost labeled “Pension-zilla.” Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability currently stands at $862 million, which earned the city a downgraded bond rating from Moody’s in a July 15 report. A task force convened by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor is set to meet again to discuss possible changes to the state’s death penalty. The panel recently proposed eliminating the use of capital punishment in cases in which an aggravated murder was committed during a burglary, robbery or rape. A record number of white women, many from rural areas, are being sent to Ohio prisons, according to a report from the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Two City Council candidates are struggling to get their names on the ballot because of a couple different circumstances. Newcomer Mike Moroski fell 46 petition signatures short of the requirement of 500 signatures that have to be turned in by Aug. 22. Meanwhile, hundreds of Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld’s petitions might be thrown out because several dates were corrected by crossing them out and writing the accurate date on the back of the forms. The Hamilton County Board of Elections says it’s unclear whether it can accept those signatures. Both candidates are now renewing their petition drives to ensure they appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. Candace Klein is resigning as CEO of SoMoLend, the embattled local startup that previously partnered with the city of Cincinnati to link local businesses to up to $400,000 in loans. City officials announced Monday they were severing ties with SoMoLend after it was revealed that the Ohio Division of Securities is accusing the company of fraud because SoMoLend allegedly failed to get the proper licenses and exaggerated its financial and performance figures. SoMoLend’s specialty is supposed to be using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders, but the charges have called its expertise into question. Metro, the city’s bus system, turns 40 today, and it plans to hold a party on Fountain Square from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in celebration. Activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman sold a majority of his Procter & Gamble stocks. Popular Science has the list of the 10 weirdest robots at this year’s drone show here.
 
 

Foreign Interest

Out-of-town tea party groups take aim at Cincinnati’s struggling pension system

3 Comments · Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Local and national tea party groups are backing a city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s ailing pension system.   
by German Lopez 08.12.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Budget at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
city hall

Pension Amendment Earns Spot on November Ballot

Campaign paid nearly $70,000 to gather petitions in city

The tea party-backed amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s ailing pension system gathered enough signatures earn a place on the November ballot. Of 14,215 signatures scrutinized so far, 8,653 were valid, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. That clears the requirement of 7,443 signatures, but the numbers will grow as the board continues counting petitions. The success follows a well-funded effort from Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which paid California-based Arno Petition Consultants nearly $70,000 to collect enough signatures, according to petition documents obtained through the city. The amendment would privatize pension plans so city employees hired after January 2014 contribute to and manage their own retirement accounts — a shift from the current set-up in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for Social Security benefits, which means they would lack the safety net and benefits that shield them from bad investments. Alternatively, the city could be required to pay into Social Security. An Aug. 5 report from the city administration claims that would make the tea party-backed system more expensive than the current pension system, which would defeat the reform’s main intention. Supporters of the tea party amendment say it’s necessary because Cincinnati is dragging its feet in addressing an $862 million pension liability, which earned the city a downgraded bond rating from Moody’s in a July 15 report. Although the city passed reforms in 2011 addressing future pension costs, the unfunded liability actually grew by $134 million between 2012 and 2013. The Cincinnati Retirement System board is working on changes that would address the unfunded liability, but so far no agreement has been reached as board members argue over whether taxpayers or retirees should be hit hardest by more cost-cutting measures. City officials acknowledge the issues with the current pension system, but they claim the tea party-backed amendment would exacerbate cost problems and reduce payments to future city retirees. “Under the guise of ‘reform,’ a well-financed out-of-state group is pushing an amendment that spells economic disaster for the future city retirees and the city’s budget,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a statement. “Current and future retirees need an income they can live on. This amendment is a budget-buster for retirees and the city.” City Council condemned the amendment in a resolution unanimously passed on Aug. 7. CityBeat’s Aug. 14 news story will give an in-depth look at the amendment and the campaign behind it.This story was updated at 5:07 p.m. with the most up-to-date numbers.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.13.2013
Posted In: News, Abortion, Business, Pensions at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
vote logo

Morning News and Stuff

Pension amendment to appear on ballot, city cuts ties with SoMoLend, heartbeat bill returns

A tea party-backed pension amendment yesterday cleared the hurdle of 7,443 petition signatures required to appear on the November ballot. Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the group behind the amendment, had previously paid nearly $70,000 to petitioners to gather signatures. The amendment would privatize pension plans so the city and city employees hired after January 2014 would contribute to individual retirement accounts that the employee would then manage by independently selecting investments. That’s a shift from the current system in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for Social Security, which means they’ll lack the safety net that typically comes with risky 401k-style plans. If workers do qualify for Social Security, the city would have to pay into the federal entitlement program, which would cost the city more money, according to an Aug. 5 report from the city administration. Cincinnati is cutting ties with SoMoLend, the local startup that had previously partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with $400,000 in loans. SoMoLend has been accused of fraud by the Ohio Division of Securities, which says the local company exaggerated its performance and financial figures and lacked the proper licenses to operate as a peer-to-peer lending business. The Division of Securities won’t issue a final order until after a hearing in October. SoMoLend’s specialty is using crowdfunding tactics to connect small businesses and startups with lenders. Ohio Republicans are considering bringing back the “heartbeat bill,” the controversial anti-abortion bill that would ban induced abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which could happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill could be reintroduced next week. That would come just a couple months after Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved a slew of anti-abortion measures through the two-year state budget. The Ohio Senate will today hear testimony from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio about projections that show the state could save money if it takes up the Medicaid expansion. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In return, the federal government will pay for the expansion for the first three years and wind down to paying 90 percent of the costs after that. The Health Policy Institute previously estimated the expansion would save Ohio roughly $1.8 billion and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade. Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is touting Cincinnati Safe Student Housing, a website that allows university students to pick from housing options that passed a free fire inspection. The website was unanimously approved by City Council following several university students’ deaths to fires, which council members argue could have been prevented with stronger standards. The new owner of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel says he will reopen the building as a hotel. Alan Friedberg, managing principal of the company that bought the building earlier this year, says the process of bringing back the building will take a lot of time and work, considering it’s now been vacant for three years. Four Greater Cincinnati hospitals have been recognized for protecting the LGBT rights of patients and employees by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation: Bethesda North Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Cincinnati Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio. DeWine claims the summary for the ballot initiative is untruthful and leaves out various important details. Mason, a Cincinnati suburb, was ranked one of the top 10 places to live by CNNMoney. Maybe CNN really likes Kings Island. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was in Cincinnati yesterday to call on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to expedite processing on benefit claims. The VA currently has a backlog of 500,000 veterans, according to a press release from Brown’s office. Introducing Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, a proposal for a railway system that would use high-pressure tubes to shoot passengers around the country. It’s estimated traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which normally takes about five and a half hours, would only take 30 minutes in the tubes.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.30.2013
Posted In: News, Prisons, Budget, Tea Party at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
from the inside

Morning News and Stuff

Private prison mired in problems, Kentucky libraries threatened, council to pass budget

Since Ohio sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), prisoner accounts and independent audits have found deteriorating conditions at the minimum- and medium-security facility. In the past few months, prisoners detailed unsanitary conditions and rising violence at the prison, which were later confirmed by official incident reports and a surprise inspection from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is calling on the state to do more to hold CCA accountable. To read the full story, click here. A Northern Kentucky lawsuit backed by the tea party is threatening library funding across the state. The problems get into the specifics of Kentucky’s tax code, potentially unraveling the entire library system by forcing the state’s libraries to get voter approval before increasing or decreasing taxes. If the courts rule against the libraries, the libraries could have to set their tax rates back to levels from decades ago, leading to considerably less funding for the public institutions. City Council is set to approve a budget plan today that will avoid laying off cops and firefighters, but it will make considerable cuts to many other city programs, increase fees for various services and raise property taxes. The public safety layoffs were averted despite months of threats from city officials that such layoffs couldn’t be avoided without the city’s plan to semi-privatize parking assets. But the parking plan is being held up in court, and City Council managed to avoid the public safety layoffs anyway. Commentary: “Commissioners’ Proposed Streetcar Cut Ignores the Basics.” A budget bill from the Ohio Senate would keep social issues at the forefront and refocus tax reforms on small businesses instead of all Ohioans. The bill would potentially allow Ohio's health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion, while cutting taxes by 50 percent for business owners instead of going through with a 7-percent across-the-board tax cut for all Ohioans. The Ohio legislature is moving to take away the state auditor’s powers to audit private funds that JobsOhio and other taxpayer-funded private entities take in. State Auditor Dave Yost is looking to do a full audit of JobsOhio that includes private funds, but other Republicans, led by Gov. John Kasich, have pushed back, claiming Yost can only check on public funds. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republican legislators established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development. A teacher who was fired from a Catholic school when she got pregnant through artificial insemination when she was single is taking the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati to court, with hearings now underway. The Church’s critics argue that the Vatican’s stance on single pregnant women is discriminatory, since it makes it much easier to enforce anti-premarital sex rules against women than men. Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is facing $14.8 million in deficits in its next budget — a sign that years of cuts are continuing at the school district. CPS says the shortfall is driven by state cuts, which CityBeat previously covered in greater detail and how they relate to CPS here. Hamilton County commissioners are asking Cincinnati to merge its 911 call centers with the county. The change would likely save money for both Cincinnati and Hamilton County, but it remains uncertain how it would affect the effectiveness of 911 services.Scientists are using yogurt to study how food interacts with the brain. CityBeat is doing a quick survey on texting while driving. Participate here. To get your questions answered in CityBeat’s Answers Issue, submit your questions here.
 
 

What's On the Books?

Northern Kentucky tea party-backed lawsuit threatens library funding across the state

1 Comment · Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Today, a tea party-backed lawsuit based on the wording of a 1979 law has Kentuckians wondering what life would be like with a weakened public library system — or, worse, with no library at all.     

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