0 Comments · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee on June 10 approved development plans for Fourth and Race
streets to build a downtown grocery store, a luxury apartment tower and a
parking garage to replace Pogue’s Garage.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
A not-so-happy reminder on the 50-year anniversary of the
Equal Pay Act: Ohio women still make 23 percent less than men.
by German Lopez
7 days ago
Posted In: News
at 10:07 AM | Permalink
Kasich: “I’m pro-life...”
Speaking at Bowling Green State University in northwestern Ohio yesterday, Gov. John Kasich was unclear on whether he’d use his line-item veto powers to remove anti-abortion provisions from a budget bill.
When asked about the issue by a student from the
University of Toledo Medical Center, Kasich responded, “First of all,
I’m pro-life.” He added, “We’ll have to see how this proceeds through
the House and the Senate conference committee and have just got to wait
and see how it goes, then I’ll make a decision as to whether I think it
goes too far or doesn’t, but keep in mind that I’m pro-life.”
The Ohio House and Senate recently passed budget bills
that would defund Planned Parenthood and fund anti-abortion crisis
pregnancy centers with federal funds. The Ohio Senate, which goes second
in the legislative budget process, also added a provision that could be used by the
state health director to shut down abortion clinics.
Under the Ohio Senate budget’s new rules, abortion clinics
would be unable to set transfer agreements with public hospitals, and established agreements could be revoked at any time and without cause by the state health director. At the same time, if a clinic can’t establish a transfer
agreement, it could be shut down with no further explanation by the
state health director.
The rules allow abortion clinics to set agreements with
private hospitals, but abortion rights advocates argue that’s much more
difficult because private hospitals tend to be religious.
State regulations already require transfer agreements
between ambulatory surgical facilities, including abortion
clinics, and hospitals,
but the Ohio Senate budget encodes the regulations into law and adds
further restrictions.Transfer agreements are typically used to provide emergency or urgent care to patients with sudden complications.
Opponents of abortion rights, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, have praised the budget measures for promoting “chastity” and “abstinence.”
During budget hearings, several Republican legislators said Planned Parenthood is being defunded in part because it provides abortion services.
Planned Parenthood is legally forbidden from using public
funds for abortions. It currently provides the services through private
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice
Ohio, criticized the budget bills and Kasich’s lack of clarity in a
statement: “This appalling agenda is out of touch with Ohio values and
we need Gov. Kasich to pledge to keep it from becoming law.”The Ohio House and Senate must reconcile their budgets through conference committee before a final version reaches Kasich’s desk. At that point, Kasich could veto the entire bill, reject specific portions with his line-item veto powers or sign the bill in its entirety.
by German Lopez
7 days ago
Downtown grocery advances, city pension in trouble, county to investigate “double voters”
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a development plan for Fourth and Race streets to build a downtown grocery store, a luxury apartment tower and a garage that will replace Pogue’s Garage. The project will cost $80 million, with the city paying
$12 million through a five-year forgivable loan and private financing paying for the remaining $68 million. The city’s loan is being financed through urban renewal
funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used
for capital investment projects downtown. The project was originally attached to the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, but the city administration says the urban renewal funds opened up after a hotel-convention center deal collapsed.
The city’s pension fund saw a return of 12 percent in
fiscal year 2012, but the amount of money the city owes and should
contribute to the pension fund continues to go up.
The higher costs will likely force City Council to put more money
toward the pension, which means less money for other services. City Council has underfunded the pension system by varying
degrees since 2003 — a problem that was further exacerbated by the
economic downturn of 2008, which cost the city’s pension fund $102
million. Consultants suggested City Council view the pension fund
as “not being of good health” and make changes that would help make the
pension fund more “robust” and less volatile.As county and state officials move to investigate and potentially prosecute 39 “double voter” cases, local groups are pushing back with warnings that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among voters. Most of the cases cover voters who mailed in an absentee
ballot then showed up to vote on Election Day. Although the voters voted
twice, their votes were only counted once. Critics of the investigations, including Hamilton County Democrats, cite Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says voters who show up to vote on Election Day after filing an
absentee ballot should be given a provisional ballot. Hamilton County
Republicans say they’re not prejudging anyone and just want an
Following a report that found Ohio’s juvenile correction facilities are among the worst in the nation for rape and other sexual assaults against incarcerated youths, the state is assigning assessors to the facilities to ensure proper protections and improvements are being put in place.The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority is looking to expand its coverage to better market the region. The Port Authority’s plans call for enlisting 18 counties across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
A derailed train hit a local electrical tower yesterday, temporarily shutting down power for part of the region.
Fatal collisions between cars and trains at public railroad crossings increased in 2012 to the highest level since 2008.
The former Terrace Plaza Hotel was sold, but it’s not clear what will come next for the building.An experimental form of male birth control involves injecting gold into testes and zapping them with infrared light.
Another one of Saturn’s moons may contain an underground ocean.
by German Lopez
8 days ago
Plan also includes parking garage, luxury apartments
In a 7-0 vote today, City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee approved development plans for Fourth and Race streets to
build a downtown grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a parking
garage to replace Pogue’s Garage.
Following the city’s $8.5 million purchase of the
property, the project will cost $80 million. The city
will provide $12 million through a five-year forgivable loan, and the
rest — $68 million — will come from private financing.
The committee hearing largely focused on the downtown
grocery store, which Odis Jones, the city’s economic development
director, called the “next step” of the city’s overall plans to
invigorate residential space and drive down office vacancy downtown.
Development company Flaherty and Collins will oversee the grocery store project, which was originally attached to the city’s plans to semi-privatize its parking assets.
The grocery store will be 15,000 square feet — slightly smaller than the Kroger store on Vine Street, which is about 17,000 square
feet — and open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will be run by an
independent operator, which is so far unnamed.
Flaherty and Collins CEO David Flaherty acknowledged it’s
“a compact space,” but he said it will be enough space for a
“full-service grocery store” with all the essentials, including fresh
The grocery store will be at the base of a new, 30-story residential tower, which will include 300 luxury apartments and a pool.
Across the street, the city will replace Pogue’s Garage, which city officials have long called an “eyesore,” with a new garage.
The seven Democrats on City Council voted in favor of the
plan, with Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman and Republican
Councilman Charlie Winburn abstaining.
Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld questioned the
funding sources for the project. City officials explained the $12
million loan will come through urban renewal bonds, which were
previously set aside in an urban revival plan that encompasses all of
Jones said the money was going to a hotel-convention
center deal when the city originally pitched the parking plan, but that
deal has since collapsed.
City officials also noted the urban renewal fund, which is generated through downtown taxes, can
only be used on capital improvement projects that support development
and redevelopment downtown. Although the fund could be modified by
City Council, it could never go to operating budget expenses such as police
Public dollars will go to the public garage, while private funds will carry the rest of the project.
The city’s $12 million investment comes through a
five-year forgivable loan, which means the city will get its money back
if parts of the project, including the privately funded grocery store,
fail to meet standards within five years. After the five years are over,
the loan is forgiven and any failure would result in a total loss on
Smitherman, who opposed the city’s parking plan,
criticized the city administration for not presenting the current
funding plan as an alternative to the parking plan: “What I’d like as a
public policymaker is to see all of the options in front of me so that I
can choose not just one option but maybe three options.”
Sittenfeld also questioned Flaherty about two previous projects Flaherty and Collins undertook that went bankrupt. Flaherty said the bankruptcies were mostly related to the economic downturn of 2008, but admitted the bankruptcies forced the company to make changes.
The city estimates the project will produce 650
construction jobs and 35 permanent, full-time jobs.
For the city, the project is part of a much bigger plan
that includes getting 3,000-5,000 new residential units built
downtown in the next five years to meet rising demand.“It’s hot to be downtown right now,”
Jones explained the property would have cost Cincinnati millions of dollars regardless of the city’s buyout and development plans because of a liability agreement the city made in the 1980s.“When you start from
there and you gradually come up and look holistically at the project,
taking action was not only necessary, it was prudent,” he said.
by German Lopez
8 days ago
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
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
8 days ago
Posted In: Voting
at 10:27 AM | Permalink
Critics warn of potential chilling effect
As county and state officials move to investigate and
potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups are pushing back,
warning that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls became the latest to speak out
in a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Secretary
of State Jon Husted.
“The current legal investigations perpetuate the idea that
voter fraud is widespread, when it’s not true,” she wrote. “We need to
work together to give citizens the confidence that the election process
is fair and accessible to those who have followed the law and
pre-determined process. When citizens are confused about the process of
voting they are intimidated from exercising their full rights to vote,
which erodes confidence in and the integrity of our democracy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and
League of Women Voters of Ohio sent similar letters to Husted in the
past few weeks, echoing fears that the investigations will intimidate
voters into staying out of future elections.
The controversy surrounds 39 “double voter” cases recently sent to the county prosecutor by the Hamilton County Board of
Elections. In most of the cases, the voters in question sent in an
absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voted on Election Day through a provisional
ballot, which are given to voters when there’s questions about
eligibility. Even though the voters technically voted
twice, their votes were only counted once.
The letters from Qualls and the League of Women Voters claim
the cases were sent to the county prosecutor based on a narrow
interpretation of state law and other sections of election law back the voters’ actions.
The letters reference Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says, “If a registered elector appears to vote in that precinct
and that elector has requested an absent voter's ballot for that
election and the director has received a sealed identification envelope
purporting to contain that elector's voted absent voter's ballots for
that election, the elector shall be permitted to cast a provisional
ballot under section 3505.181 of the Revised Code in that precinct on the day of that election.” The law goes on to clarify only one of the votes should be counted.
Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of
Elections on May 31, siding with the Republicans on the board who wanted
to send the case to the county prosecutor.
Alex Triantafilou, an elections board member and chairman
of the Hamilton County Republican Party, says Republicans just want an investigation.
“I think anytime a person casts two ballots we ought to
ask why,” Triantafilou says. “This is not to prejudge any of these cases
as criminal charges. That’s not been our intention. What we want is a
qualified investigator to ask the question and then answer it.”
Tim Burke, chairman of the local elections board and the
Hamilton County Democratic Party, disagrees: “This is a damn shame.
What’s happening to those voters is absolutely wrong.”
Burke claims the law was followed and no further investigation is necessary. He alleges
Republicans are trying to suppress voters.
“I fear that what’s going on is that elements of the
Republican Party want to create the impression that there is massive
voter fraud going on, and they want to scare the hell out of people to
intimidate them and discourage them from voting in the future,” Burke
says. “I think part of what’s going on here is an effort to identify
voter fraud in order to justify more restrictions on voting rights.”
Triantafilou argues Democrats, including Burke, are
playing politics: “It’s a continuation of the kind of fear that
Democrats try to instill in the electorate, and it’s a political weapon.
We’re not trying to do that. They alleged voter suppression in the last
election cycle. That was nonsensical. The problem really is fraud.”
by German Lopez
12 days ago
Plan also cuts taxes for businesses, restores some education funding
In a party line 23-10 vote today, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate approved a $61 billion budget plan for fiscal years
2014 and 2015 that takes multiple measures against legal
abortions, aims to cut taxes for small businesses and partly restores education funding cut in the previous 2012-2013 budget.
The budget plan gives a large amount of attention to
social issues, particularly abortion. Most recently, the Ohio Senate added an amendment that could be used by the director of the Ohio Department of Health to close down abortion clinics.The amendment bans abortion clinics from establishing transfer agreements with public hospitals, forcing the clinics to make such agreements with private hospitals,
which are often religious and could refuse to deal with abortion clinics. Under the amendment, if the clinics can’t reach a transfer agreement, the state health director is given the power to shut them down.
Abortion rights groups claim the amendment will likely be used to shut down abortion clinics or force them to dissolve their abortion services.
The bill also makes changes to family services funding
that effectively defund Planned Parenthood, a family planning services
provider that is often criticized by conservatives for offering abortion
services, even though it does so exclusively through private donations.
The bill also redirects some federal Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families funds to crisis pregnancy centers, which
effectively act as the anti-abortion alternative to comprehensive family
planning service providers like Planned Parenthood.
The changes continue a conservative push on social issues that began in the Ohio House budget (“The Chastity Bunch,” issue of April 24).Supporters praise the bill for “protecting life” and promoting “chastity” and “abstinence,” but critics are pushing back.
“Today the Ohio Senate turned its back on the health care needs of Ohio’s women and paved the way for family planning centers and abortion clinics to be closed across the state. If Gov. (John) Kasich doesn’t remove these provisions from the budget, the unintended pregnancy rate will rise, cancer will go undetected and women who need abortion care will not have safe, legal facilities to turn to in some communities,” said
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a
statement. “This budget will put the lives of thousands of Ohio women at risk if Gov. Kasich fails to line-item veto these dangerous measures.”The Ohio Senate plan also scraps Ohio House plans to
cut income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent and instead aims to cut
taxes for small businesses by 50 percent.
Republicans claim the tax cut will help small businesses,
which they call the state’s “job creators.” But conservative and liberal
groups have criticized the plan.
In an analysis, Policy Matters Ohio,
a left-leaning policy think tank, claimed the tax cut will
inadvertently benefit “affluent passive investors” and “partners in law
firms and other partnerships.”
Given that, Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters, says the plan will do little for Ohio’s economy.
“The fastest growing small businesses are not making money
because they’re investing heavily in their operations — in marketing,
research and sales,” Schiller says. “So if they’re making anything,
they’re investing it by and large in the business, so they’re not likely
to be able to benefit very much from this.”
He adds, “Meanwhile, you’re going to have passive
investors who have no role in adding employees and partners in law
firms, architecture firms, accounting firms and other kinds of
professional organizations who will personally benefit from this in a
way that I think is unlikely to generate more employment.”
Instead of focusing on tax cuts, Schiller argues the state
should be increasing direct investments, particularly in education
and human services.
The conservative Tax Foundation echoed some of Schiller’s criticisms in a blog post.
“This is bad policy, and many supporters are errantly
pushing it under the guise of putting more money in the hands of
‘job-creators.’ But this is based on a flawed understanding of what
creates jobs,” wrote Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation. “The
businesses that actually create jobs are not small businesses or big
businesses; they are businesses that are growing. And that type of
business is virtually impossible to target with a tax incentive.”
The budget plan restores about $717 million in
education funding, but that’s not enough to outweigh the $1.8 billion in education funding
that was cut in the 2012-2013 budget, which Kasich and the
Republican-controlled legislature approved in 2011.
The education funding increases will disproportionately favor the state’s property-wealthiest districts —
effectively giving the biggest funding increases to school districts
that can already afford to raise more money by leveraging high local
Stephen Dyer, an education policy fellow at the left-leaning Innovation Ohio, captured the disproportionate funding increases in chart form in a blog post:The chart shows only 15 percent of funding increases will go to the property-poorest one-third of school districts, while a vast majority of the increases will go to the property-wealthiest one-third.Health care advocates were also disappointed to see the
Ohio Senate pass on a federally funded Medicaid expansion, which would
allow anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level —
$15,856 for a single-person household and $32,499 for a family of four — to enroll in the government-backed health care program.
Kasich proposed expanding Medicaid in his original budget plan (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20), but Ohio legislators are skeptical of the expansion’s consequences.
As part of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the
Medicaid expansion would be fully financed by the federal government for
the first three years. After that, federal payments would be phased
down to capture 90 percent of the expansion, where federal funding would
Republican legislators, backed by Republican State
Treasurer Josh Mandel, are skeptical the federal government can afford
the expansion. There’s no historical precedent for the federal
government failing to meet its obligations to Medicaid, but
Republican legislators argue there’s also no historical precedent for
the federal government backing such large Medicaid expansions across the
A Health Policy Institute of Ohio study found the Medicaid expansion would save the state $1.8 billion and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.The budget also fails to restore local government funding cuts that have been carried out during Kasich’s time in office. In comparison to fiscal years 2010 and 2011, local governments are receiving about 50 percent less aid from the state, leading to $22.2 million less funds for Cincinnati on an annual basis (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).When asked to explain the various cuts to education and local government funding in the 2012-2013 budget, Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols told CityBeat in September 2012, “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit. … We had to fix that.”The Ohio legislature and Kasich must agree on a budget plan in time for a June 30 deadline.
by German Lopez
12 days ago
Posted In: News
at 11:09 AM | Permalink
Video provides best break for budget hearings
Here at CityBeat, we cover a lot of budget hearings, and they can very easily wear us down with their partisan squabbles and monotonous focus on details that everyone will forget about in a week or so. Right now, we're watching the Ohio Senate budget hearings, which have so far involved Democrats repeatedly bringing up amendments only to get them shot down by the Republican majority. Very repetitive, very boring.Thankfully, the Internet has given us the chance to take what we like to call "cat breaks." This video — arguably the greatest thing in the entire Internet — is the latest example:We encourage you to do the same while you're at work. If your employer ever questions the practice, just point him or her to the study that found looking at cute animals actually boosts productivity.
by German Lopez
12 days ago
City, county clash over law; Senate restores some school funding; Jim Berns misleads public
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.With a $3.2 billion price tag and 15- to 20-year time
scale, Cincinnati’s plan to retrofit and replace its sewers is one of
the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history, but the
program is experiencing hurdles
as the city and county clash over how to reward contracts and whether
the government should have a say in training employees. Cincinnati
recently passed and modified a “responsible bidder” law that sets rules
for apprenticeship programs and a fund for pre-apprenticeship programs,
which Councilman Chris Seelbach says help promote local jobs and job
training. But critics, backed by county officials and business
organizations, say the law puts too much of a burden on contractors.
The Ohio Senate budget bill would restore $717 million in education funding, but it wouldn’t be enough
to overcome $1.8 billion in education funding cuts carried out in the
last biennium budget. The funding increase also disproportionately
favors the wealthy, with the property-poorest one-third of school
districts getting 15 percent of the funding increases and the top
one-third getting the vast majority. The Senate is expected to vote on
the bill today.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn’t hand out “free marijuana plants”
at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media
outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his
campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato
plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.
Commentary: “JobsOhio: Something to Hide, Something to Fear?”
With 8-0 support from City Council, Mayor Mark Mallory appointed Stan Chesley
to the city’s Human Relations Commission yesterday. Chesley retired
from practicing law after he was disbarred in Kentucky for allegedly
keeping millions of dollars that should have gone to clients involved in
a lawsuit about phen-fen, a diet drug. Mallory and Chesley have worked
together in the past, particularly to raise money for the city’s
Ohio lawmakers are considering two laws
that would tighten rules about who can carry guns in schools and
encourage religious education. The changes related to guns would involve
local law enforcement in deciding who can carry guns, but it would also
allow schools to conceal the names of who can carry a firearm and
protect those individuals from liability for accidents unless there was
“reckless and wanton conduct.” The changes for religious education would
allow public high schools to give credit to students who take religious
courses outside of school.
Ohio senators scrapped a plan that would have raised vehicle registration fees.
Ohio gas prices jumped above $4 this week.
NASA is building an intergalactic GPS.
Sleep-deprived men are apparently really bad at judging who wants to sleep with them.