by German Lopez
Ohio must recognize gay couple, Qualls knocks pension plan, 1.25 million in state uninsured
A federal judge ruled that a state death certificate must recognize the marriage of a newlywed same-sex couple,
but the order only applies to James Obergefell
and John Arthur. It’s the first time a same-sex marriage is recognized
in Ohio. The two men had the case expedited because Arthur is suffering
from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly neurological disease with
no known cure. Al Gerhardstein, the attorney for the two husbands, says
the ruling could be the beginning of legal challenges from gay couples
inspired by the Supreme Court’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which could put further pressure on Ohio to legalize same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered ongoing efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state here,
although the group in charge of the movement is now aiming to put the
issue on the ballot in 2014, not 2013 as originally planned.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in a statement called the tea
party-backed charter amendment that would revamp the city’s pension
system “a wolf in sheep's clothing.” She is also requesting the city
administration study the amendment’s consequences and report back to
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Aug. 5. The amendment
would funnel new hires into a private retirement plan similar to what’s
typically found in the private sector — except, unlike private-sector
workers, city employees don’t pay into Social Security and don’t collect
Social Security benefits from their years with the city. The amendment
was announced less than a week after Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating in part because of the city’s increasing pension liability.
A poll analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans are uninsured,
with about 17 percent of the working-age population lacking insurance.
It also found that Ohioans are increasingly reliant on public programs
to obtain health benefits. The analysis looked at the Health
Foundation’s 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll.
The results could spur further efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility
in the state, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found
would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans
over the next decade. Republican legislators rejected the Medicaid
expansion in the state budget, citing concerns that the federal government wouldn’t be able to uphold its 90-percent funding commitment.
Gov. John Kasich wants to fast track
the I-71/MLK Interchange in part by using revenue from the Ohio
Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich’s recommendations, which must be approved by
the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council, add up to $107.7
million in state funds.
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Mason Republican who’s facing 16 felony charges of fraud, won’t resign his seat.
Twenty-eight people have applied to become Cincinnati’s next police chief.
With a recent uptick in violence, many have called on the city to
expedite the process of replacing James Craig, the former police chief
who left for Detroit earlier in the year.Despite rising interest rates, Cincinnati-area home sales in June continued their strong trend up.
For-profit entities are opening more online schools in Ohio, with the process set by state legislators to shut out public educators. A previous investigation by CityBeat found online schools tend to do worse and cost more than their peers.
The city administration and social media network Nextdoor are partnering up
to better link Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with the local government.
The network will provide a free website for each of the city’s
neighborhoods, which the city says will allow residents to “to get to
know their neighbors, ask questions and exchange local advice and
recommendations.” City officials plan to use the websites to regularly
reach out to local citizens.
Computer software from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could make the Internet three times faster.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:49 PM | Permalink
Officials blame Moody’s downgrade on methodology changes, state policy
It might cost Cincinnati more to issue debt following a credit rating downgrade by Moody’s. In a report released on July 15, the credit ratings agency downgraded the city’s general bonds from Aa1 to Aa2 and revised the bonds’ outlook to “negative.”“The negative outlook reflects the expectation that the city will continue to face challenges in attaining structurally balanced operations, stemming from its unfunded pension liabilities and reliance on a number of one-time budgetary solutions in recent years,” the report reads.In a memo to the mayor and City Council, City Manager Milton Dohoney put the blame on Moody’s methodological changes that now account for state pension funds that Cincinnati has no direct control over. Specifically, Moody’s now looks at the state-managed Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and Ohio Police and Fire Retirement System (OP&F) when scoring Cincinnati, instead of just the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS), which the city directly operates.“It is important to note the Ohio Revised Code provides the percentage each employer pays into OPERS and OP&F as its contribution. The City has paid 100 (percent) of this contribution each year as required. The City has no ability to impact the unfunded liability of OPERS or OP&F,” Dohoney wrote in the memo.Still, some of the blame lies on the city’s pension fund, which is lacking a long-term strategy for sustainability, according to Moody’s. The CRS board is currently looking at scenarios to address the city’s long-term liabilities. Its next meeting is on Aug. 1, and it could produce changes that would be presented to City Council, according to the city manager’s memo.The report also takes issue with the city’s repeated use of one-time sources to fix budget gaps. Since 2001, the city’s annual operating budgets have used one-time sources instead of achieving structural balance with long-term cuts and sources of revenue.Critics argue the one-time sources only delay fiscal woes instead of permanently fixing the budget shortfalls. Supporters claim the one-time methods allow the city to balance its budget without taking austere measures that would lead to city layoffs and hurt growth while the economy is in recovery.Moody’s also claims the city has relatively weak socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates. The report from Moody’s does give Cincinnati some good credit, citing a “pressured but still satisfactory financial position,” the recent stabilization of earnings taxes, financial flexibility provided by an available but untapped levy authority, the city’s economically diverse population and an above-average debt position. Bonds are typically issued when the city needs a temporary infusion of funds for capital projects, such as the Cincinnati streetcar.Updated with more context.
by German Lopez
Port wants parking lease money, Ohio No. 2 for job losses, Kasich plans more tax cuts
New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease.
The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use
the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has
been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port
Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city:
It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking
meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire
various private operators from around the country to manage the assets.
The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a
year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and
to plug budget gaps.
Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector
showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state
has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state
actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In
June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans
to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive
taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the
sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into
law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered:
It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised
sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.
A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs
if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The
Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an
oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance
from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking
well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory
loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost
communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the
well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman,
the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in
Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and
second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.
A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates
in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for
Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food
deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.
Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons,
calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100
degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the
afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power
agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.
Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.
Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.
by German Lopez
Parking lease facing legal dispute, critical memo dismissed, mayor to attend streetcar social
In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action
to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages
to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he
made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after
City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t
take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself.
Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development
projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but
opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking
meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.
The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox,
which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement.
But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with
anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council
members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it.
The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.
Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters
at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news
and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016
after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus
Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.
Commentary: “Zimmerman Reactions Overlook Broader Racial Issues in America.”
Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down
following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a
great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the
state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials
have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media
Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat
analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income
Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges
related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by
investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others
was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a
business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power
since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.
A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.
The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence.
Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum
penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a
The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a
continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up
48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home
Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.
A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.
Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”
A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.
Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:55 AM | Permalink
Supporters gathering Thursday to discuss project
Mayor Mark Mallory will join fellow streetcar
supporters Thursday to discuss how the project is coming along and where
The event is the monthly streetcar social, hosted by Cincinnatians for Progress.
Organizers expect to pull in nearly 100 people from around
the city to discuss topics and issues surrounding the project. It will take place on Thursday, July 18, between 5:30 p.m. to 8
p.m. at Rhinegeist Brewery, 1910 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202. For
more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.
Mallory, who’s term-limited from running for reelection
this year, has spearheaded efforts to build a streetcar in Cincinnati.
He’s been joined by a steady Democratic majority in City Council, which
most recently approved $17.4 million more in funding for the project
alongside several accountability measures that will require the city
manager to regularly update council and the public on the project’s
In the past week, the city announced the streetcar is set to open for service on Sept. 15, 2016, after city officials and bidders finalized details for a construction contract.
CityBeat’s cover story for the week of July 10 debunked the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the Cincinnati streetcar project.
Streetcar supporters argue the project will foster
economic growth and development in Cincinnati, particularly downtown — a
claim backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of
Opponents claim the project, which now stands at $133
million after recent cost overruns were fixed, is too expensive. They doubt it will succeed in spurring growth
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed
FitzGerald is urging a coalition effort to begin a long, complicated
petitioning process that could repeal some of the anti-abortion measures
in the two-year state budget.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Following years of political controversy,
the Cincinnati streetcar is scheduled to open for service on Sept. 15,
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The focus on the
Zimmerman trial and its surrounding racial controversy has left out
discussion of systemic racial problems in America.
Cincinnati loses a major outlet for community voices with closing of Media Bridges
2 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Rufus Johnson remains optimistic he can
maintain his roles as a television producer and community activist in
Cincinnati, despite Media Bridges closing later this year as a result of
city and state funding cuts.
by German Lopez
City debt outlook worsens, Port apologizes for email about parking memo, fracking tax fails
It may become more expensive for the city to issue debt after Moody’s downgraded the city’s bond rating.
The credit rating agency pinned the blame on the city’s exposure to
local and state retirement systems, as well as the city’s reliance since
2001 on one-time sources to balance the operating budget. Still,
Moody’s does give the city some credit for its economically diverse
population and recently stabilized earnings tax, despite docking the city for bad socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner is apologizing to the public and council members
following the exposure of an email that implied she was trying to keep a
critical parking memo away from public sight. Brunner says she was just trying
to buy time so she could directly show the memo to the Port Authority’s
board before it was reported by news outlets, but she acknowledges that
her email was ill-conceived and came off as an attempt to stifle
transparency. The memo suggests Cincinnati is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Port Authority and several private operators, but the Port Authority and city officials argue the memo is outdated and full of technical errors.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has a report detailing political contributions from oil and gas companies
that may have helped bring down a state “fracking tax,” which was supposed to
raise state revenue from Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas boom. Apparently,
many of the Republican legislators who staunchly opposed the oil and gas
severance tax also took in a lot of money from the same companies who
would have to pay up. The tax proposal was effectively dead on arrival,
even with the hyperbolic support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Fracking is an
extraction technique that pumps millions of gallons of water underground
to free up oil and gas. CityBeat covered its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
Water utility leaders are meeting in Cincinnati this week to discuss sustainable business models.
In Cincinnati, water usage has dropped while expenses to treat water
and waste water have escalated, causing the Metropolitan Sewer District
to take in less money. The conference will discuss models that can
adjust around this trend while keeping rates low for customers.
The owners of The Hanke Exchange, a collection of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, say occupancy is going up
as a result of the promise of the Cincinnati streetcar. The property is
now at 84 percent occupancy rate, up from 28 percent three years ago.
Dayton and Cincinnati will hold rallies Saturday showing support for Trayvon Martin,
the unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman last
year. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder by a jury last Saturday.
Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, was confirmed to direct the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the top agency that will regulate the financial institutions that played a role in causing the Great Recession.
The Hamilton County Young Democrats are hosting a free event
today to meet Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner, who’s also running for
secretary of state next year against Republican incumbent Jon Husted.
If the sun suddenly went out, humanity could take a few weeks to die out and perhaps live in Iceland.