Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.
Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.
“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.
Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.
The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.
Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.
“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”
Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities.
Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.
If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.
The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes.
The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.
Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.
Activists gathered on Thursday outside of the West Chester office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, asking the House’s top official to look at reducing military spending when coming up with a budget.
The group of nearly two dozen — which included nuns, a veteran, a retiree advocate, a small businessman and progressive activists — held signs reading, “It is time for Nation Building in the United States. Cut Massive Pentagon Budget Now!” and “End Tax Breaks for Richest 2%.”
“We’re here today in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s West Chester office to drive home the fact that we believe that over 50 percent of the budget magically, this elephant in the House, has failed to be discussed as we discuss taking away services that provide human needs,” said David Little of Progress Ohio.
“Any discussion that fails to address excesses in that budget is failing the American people.”
Little added that it was possible to support the troops and veterans without spending billions on pointless wars.
Butler County attorney and Navy veteran Bruce Carter said the military can be more efficient in what he called the changing mission.
“When you refuse to have a discussion on over half of the budget, that’s like trying to tell the Bengals to win a game without going over the 50 yard line,” he said.
The group had a letter to deliver to Boehner, which contained what they called a statement of principles.
“We believe in a holistic approach to the budget crisis, and in order to protect the middle-class, cuts to the Pentagon need to be at the forefront,” the letter states. “We understand that Pentagon cuts are a controversial issue, however, Pentagon cuts in the sequester do not threaten our national security.”
The letter suggests that some of the money currently being spent on the Defense Department goes to providing services for veterans.
The military accounted for about 52 percent — or $600 billion — of discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.
In contrast, education, training and social services collectively made up 9 percent of the budget.
The group of four activists weren’t allowed into Boehner’s office, but a young staffer met them outside. He said that the speaker thought everything should be on the table when it came to budget cuts.
Redistricting reform may have died in front of voters, but will the state legislature pick up the pieces? Ohio Sen. Keith Faber, a Republican, and Ohio Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat, say a deal is close. The senators say the task force in charge of finding a way to reform the state’s redistricting system could release a report later this week, and a public hearing is scheduled for next week. The congressional redistricting process has scrutiny for decades as politicians have redrawn districts for political gain. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County. The change was enough to dilute Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban core, shifting the district from politically mixed to safely Republican.
A group in favor of President Barack Obama is taking the federal fight over taxes to a local level. Ohio Action Now is planning a Friday rally in front of U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot’s office demanding that he accept tax hikes on individuals making more than $250,000. Chabot, who represents Cincinnati’s congressional district, and other Republicans oppose the plan because it taxes what they like to call “job creators.” However, research has shown taxing the wealthy is economically better than taxing the lower and middle classes. The International Monetary Fund also found in an extensive study that spending cuts hurt economies a lot, but tax hikes barely make a negative impact. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, is also criticizing Republicans for not accepting Obama’s tax proposal.
Hamilton County commissioners did not agree to raise the sales tax; instead, they will reduce the property tax rollback. For residential property owners, the tax hike adds $35 per $100,000 of a home’s valuation. Commissioners say either a reduction in the rollback or a sales tax hike is necessary to balance the county stadium fund, which has undergone problems ever since the county made a bad deal with the Reds and Bengals. None of the current commissioners were in office when the original stadium deal was made.
The city of Cincinnati and a city union have reached a deal on privatizing parking services. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) agreed not to oppose the plan after the city promised not to lay off union employees. As part of parking privatization, 25 union members will lose their current jobs, but they’ll be transitioned into other city jobs. City Manager Milton Dohoney insists parking privatization is necessary in his budget plan if the city wants to avoid 344 layoffs. The public will be able to weigh in on the budget proposal today at 6 p.m. at City Hall and Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. at Corryville Recreation Center.
Cincinnati City Council approved a resolution asking the state government for local control of fracking operations. But the resolution has no legal weight, so the state will retain control. Fracking has been criticized by environmentalists who see it as a possible cause of air pollution and water contamination. Critics also want to know what’s in the chemicals used during the fracking process, but, under state law, companies are not forced to fully disclose such information.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear will meet Dec. 12 in Covington to discuss a study funding the Brent Spence Bridge overhaul. Some, including Greater Cincinnati’s Port Authority, have pushed for tolls to help fund the bridge project, but northern Kentucky lawmakers are strongly against the idea. The bridge, which links downtown Cincinnati and Covington, has been under heavy scrutiny due to deteriorating conditions and over-capacity.
The city of Cincinnati and web-based SoMoLend are partnering to provide crowd funding to the city’s small businesses and startups. The partnership, which was approved by the Small Business Advisory Committee, is meant to encourage job and economic growth.
The Ohio Senate will rework a bill that revamps the school report card system. The bill seeks to enforce tougher standards on schools to put more pressure on improvement, but some Democrats have voiced concerns the new standards are too tough as the state replaces old standardized tests. A very early simulation from May showed Cincinnati Public Schools dropping from the second-best rating of “Effective” under the current system to a D-, with 23 schools flunking and Walnut Hills High School retaining its top mark with an A.
The Ohio House passed a bill banning Internet sweepstakes cafes, but it’s unsure whether the Ohio Senate will follow suit. State officials say the cafes are ripe for criminal activity.
More Ohioans are seeking help for gambling problems.
A bill seeking to curb duplicate lawsuits over on-the-job asbestos exposure has cleared the Ohio Senate. Proponents say the bill stops double-dipping from victims, but opponents say it will make legitimate claims all the more difficult.
The Ohio Supreme Court declared the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to be in contempt for not following a court order requiring the state agency to compensate 87 landowners in Mercer County for flood damage. As a result, ODNR must complete appraisals within 90 days and file all appropriation cases within 120 days.
We’re all going to die... eventually. Someday, the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda Galaxy, and scientists want help in finding out more about the galaxy.
It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.
Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.
“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.
Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.
Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.
“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.
Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.
A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.
Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.
The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating
support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and
Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts
It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.
Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.
He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.
The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.
“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”
Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.
A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget is being delayed a week at the request of the sole Democrat on the Board of County Commissioners.
Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board President Greg Hartmann at a Monday staff meeting to push back the vote a week to address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future financial stability.
Hartmann, who earlier denied Portune’s request to issue securities to raise millions to balance the budget, agreed. He said it was important that all three commissioners agree on the budget.
Portune told reporters he wanted to see more funding for juvenile courts. The proposed budget would cut about $3 million from the juvenile court’s 2012 appropriation.
He said he also wants to see specific plans on how and where the county will invest in economic development. He and Hartmann disagree about whether that kind of planning belongs in a budget.
Hartmann had the proposal developed after commissioners rejected three plans from County Administrator Christian Sigman, two of which would have raised taxes. The $192 million budget under consideration cuts about $14 million from the 2012 appropriation levels without raising taxes.
The proposed budget makes a number of what Hartman calls “modest cuts” in almost every county department.
All three commissioners have stated that public safety funding is a priority. The Sheriff’s Department would see a small reduction of $27,033, bringing its budget to almost $57.5 million.
However, the department would also face an additional $4.3 million in expenses next year, giving incoming Sheriff Jim Neil an effectively reduced budget.
The Emergency Management Agency would get a nearly 40 percent increase in the proposed budget, up to $400,000.
The Board of Elections would see its budget slashed 36.2 percent to $6.9 million. However, its expenses would also be lower in 2013 because there is no presidential election as there was in 2012.
The proposed budget would bring the Department of Job and Family Services’ appropriation to $832,900 — a reduction of $10,360. However, that funding level is dictated by the State of Ohio and not the county.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor would also see a small increase of $37,597 intended to hold level its funding from 2012, as the department went over-budget. The prosecutor has the ability to sue the county over its budget appropriation, so the department typically maintains level funding.
The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.
Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said.
He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.
Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000 or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.
Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.
Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.
Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.
Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.
“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.
He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.
“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.”
Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.
Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.
“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”
Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.
Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.
“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”
With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.
Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.
“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.
“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.
Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.
The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.
Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”
Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.
So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.
Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.
One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.
A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.
“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.
“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.
Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.
“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan weighed in on the controversy over replacement National Football League referees in a Tuesday town hall-style meeting in Cincinnati, comparing the Obama administration to the substitute officials who cost his home-state Green Bay Packers a victory with their botched call Monday night.
“Give me a break. It is time to get the real refs,” Ryan said.
“And you know what, it reminds me of President Obama and the economy — if you can’t get it right, it’s time to get out. I half think that these refs work part time for the Obama administration in the budget office.”
Ryan was referencing a play that should have been called an interception for the Packers but instead allowed the Seattle Seahawks to score a game-winning touchdown on Monday Night Foodball. Replacement referees — some of whom may have been fired by the Lingerie Football League for incompetence — are filling in for unionized officials who are locked out.
The vice presidential candidate spoke inside a Byer Steel warehouse surrounded by piles of I-beams and rebar. A self-proclaimed Southern gospel rock band played before the event, occasionally pausing to talk up GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials.
Much of Ryan’s prepared speech, as well as questions from participants in the town hall, focused on the economy, the deficit and the need for changes to entitlement programs.
Asked by an audience member how he would limit government and eliminate programs, Ryan said he and Romney would spur economic growth by lessening the tax burdens on small businesses, cut discretionary spending on government agencies and overhaul entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Outside before the rally, protesters called for Ryan — whose House-passed budget made deeps cuts to many welfare and safety-net programs — to have more compassion for the poor.
Meanwhile an airplane sponsored by MoveOn.org carried a banner reading, “Romney: Believe in 55% of America?” referencing comments revealed in a recent video where Romney claimed 47 percent of Americans didn’t pay any income tax and viewed themselves as victims reliant on government so it wasn’t his job to worry about their votes.
“We’re here with several messages, including the immorality of the Ryan budget and how it will impact the vast majority of Americans negatively," said David Little with the liberal advocacy group ProgressOhio. “When a budget protects those with the most and negatively impacts those with the least, I would suggest that is immoral.”
Bentley Davis with the Alliance for Retired Americans said she was concerned about what Romney and Ryan’s plans for Medicare and Social Security would do to retirement security.
Ryan had proposed to keep Medicare the same for anybody already 55 and over, but give younger Americans the choice to get money to spend toward private insurance or stay in a Medicare-like program.
Inside the warehouse was a digital sign that ticked up the national debt, which was at $16 trillion and rising.
“Here is what our government, our Congressional Budget Office, is telling us our debt is in the future if we stay on the path that President Obama has kept us on, has put us on … the debt goes as high as two and a half times the size of our economy by the time my three kids are my age,” Ryan said.
The Obama campaign fired back in an email response, saying Ryan used misleading rhetoric to hide his own record and Republican plans to raise taxes on the middle class to fund tax cuts for wealthier Americans.
“The Romney-Ryan ticket has plenty of questions to answer about a failed record on manufacturing and job creation and their support for policies that will devastate middle class families by raising their taxes and shipping jobs overseas,” Obama for America – Ohio Press Secretary Jessica Kershaw wrote.
“These policies would take the growing manufacturing industry backward, not forward.”
For some in the audience, the economy was also on the forefront.
Steve Teal, 56, of West Chester, said he doesn't like the direction the country is going in.
"Just get the country back to work," Teal said. "I don't trust him (Obama). He doesn't stand up for America. He doesn't stand up for Americans."
CityBeat writer Stefane Kremer contributed to this report.
Ryan went from Cincinnati to an event with Romney in Dayton later on Tuesday.
Well, surprise. Most of the Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes live in states that polls show are locked in for Mitt Romney. They are down South. Or out in the Southwest, according to Tax Foundation data.
Mississippi has the most filers with no income tax liability. It has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980. When Obama was on the ballot there in 2008, he only got 43 percent of the popular vote. Yet 45 percent of Mississippi tax filers pay nothing. That tidbit certainly rips a hole in Romney’s contention that Obama voters don’t pay income taxes — Republican voters appear to be skating as well, and obviously in far larger numbers than Romney suggests.
Our neighbors in Kentucky — who voted early 60 percent GOP over the past three presidential elections — are pretty good at not paying income taxes too. Fewer send checks to the IRS than in West Virginia. Alaska is the outlier — it votes Republican and just 21 percent of its filers don’t pay income taxes to Uncle Sam. You betcha, the vast majority of Alaskans do send money to the IRS. Perhaps they write their checks while looking at Russia from their porches.
If you are wondering about Ohio, the state had 5.56 million tax filers. Of that number, some 68 percent paid federal income taxes. We’re a swing state that backed Obama in 2008. Clearly, not all the payers were Republicans.
Here is a map with all the data:
The Tax Foundation, a group based in Washington, D.C. that calls itself a nonpartisan research group, produced its state-by-state ranking of non-filers in May 24, 2010. It has been available on the Internet for more than two years, which means it was available long before Romney said Obama’s supporters don’t pay taxes. This insight gets right to the heart of the matter:
“Nine of the 10 states with the largest percentage of non-payers are in the South and Southwest. In Mississippi, 45 percent of federal tax returns remit nothing or receive money with their federal tax returns; that is the highest percentage nationally. Georgia is next at 41 percent, followed by Arkansas at 41 percent, and Alabama, South Carolina and New Mexico at 40 percent. All of the top 10 ranking states have among the lowest median family incomes in the country.”
Politicians and economists often talk favorably about simplifying the tax code, but a June 17 report from Policy Matters Ohio found Ohio’s tax code will remain complicated under the budget plan being discussed in the Ohio House and Senate.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for House Republicans says reform will come through separate bills later this year.
The Policy Matters report, titled “Breaking Bad: Ohio tax breaks escape scrutiny,” found the state’s tax code will include 129 tax exemptions, deductions and credits if the Senate’s 2013-2014 budget is approved — one more tax break than the previous biennium. Altogether, the Ohio Department of Taxation estimates the tax breaks will cost Ohio nearly $8 billion in fiscal year 2015.
The Senate budget repealed two tax breaks, but it simultaneously added or expanded a dozen, according to the report. Among the additions was a 50-percent income tax deduction for business owners on up to $375,000 of annual income, which Policy Matters says will largely benefit passive investors, one-man firms and partnerships that will not add jobs.
Policy Matters found 44 tax breaks have been eliminated since 2003 because of the elimination of corporate franchise and estate taxes. But in that time frame elected officials have added and expanded so many new tax breaks that there are now only nine less tax breaks than there were in 2003.
The report claims many of the tax breaks are wasteful. One example: An almost $20 million a year exemption for pollution-control equipment purchased by utility companies. The report says most of the purchases are already mandated by the state government, which means the state is effectively paying companies to follow the law and regulations.
The report ultimately calls for thorough, regular reviews of the state’s tax breaks.
“It is time for the General Assembly to scrutinize spending through the tax code as it does other state expenditures,” said Zach Schiller, report author and research director at Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement.
At the beginning of the 2014-2015 budget process, House Speaker William Batchelder (R-Medina) and Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said one of their goals was to simplify the tax code. Mike Dittoe, spokesperson for Batchelder and Ohio House Republicans, says such reform will now be pursued in separate bills, probably later in the summer or fall.
“The budget is obviously a very labor-intensive process and there’s lots of moving parts,” he says. “A lot of members of the House and Senate just want to make sure that things get done right.”
Instead of simplifying the tax code in the budget, Republican legislators are focused on passing tax cuts. The House and Senate are currently working on reconciling their separate tax plans by merging and downsizing them. The joint plan is “likely to be unveiled in its entirety here over the next few days,” Dittoe says.
The House approved a 7-percent across-the-board income tax
cut in its budget plan. But the Senate cut the House’s tax proposal and
approved a tax deduction for business owners instead. Supporters say the tax cuts will spur the economy and create jobs, while opponents claim the plans are misguided and will fail to lift the lower and middle classes.
The budget bill currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature would cut taxes in a way that disproportionately favors the wealthy, according to a new analysis from Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy group.
The budget bill, which was passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House with a 61-35 vote on April 18, would cut state income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent. Policy Matters analyzed the result for each tax bracket: For the top 1 percent, the tax plan would cut $2,717 in taxes on average. For the middle 20 percent, it would amount to a $51 cut on average. For the bottom 20 percent, it would result in $3 on average.
The report explains the disproportionate gains are caused by the structure behind Ohio’s tax system: “Ohio has a graduated income tax, so people pay more on higher levels of earnings. Because of that, across-the-board tax cuts give much more money to the wealthiest Ohioans. This reinforces inequality and adds to the unfairness of the state and local tax system, which is weighted in favor of upper-income taxpayers when all state and local taxes are taken into account.”
Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters, says the Ohio House tax plan will also have little impact on Ohio’s economy.
“Since the 21-percent reduction in state income taxes approved in 2005, Ohio’s economy has underperformed the nation,” Schiller said in a statement. “There is little reason to believe that another round of income-tax cuts will produce a different result.”
Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Speaker of the House William Batchelder and Ohio House Republicans, wrote in an email to CityBeat that there are still two months for the state government to finalize the details of the tax plan as it works through the Ohio legislature.
The budget bill still has to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate. If changes are made to the Ohio House proposal, the Ohio Senate bill would have to be concurred by the Ohio House. It would then need to be signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, who could line-item veto certain parts of the bill or veto the entire bill.
“It’s disappointing to see that Policy Matters Ohio would begrudge an income tax cut which will benefit all Ohioans,” Dittoe wrote in the email. “Of the seven citations in their report, ironically, five of them refer back to previous ‘studies’ issued by none other than Policy Matters Ohio. Before issuing a study of this magnitude, it may be wise for them to cite something other than themselves to make the report more credible.”
Policy Matter’s findings were gathered through the independent Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which plugs the numbers into its own model to gauge the impact of tax cuts on different income levels.
The resulting numbers do little to deflate concerns raised by Policy Matters about Kasich’s tax proposal, which was a much larger 20-percent across-the-board income tax cut. Policy Matters found Kasich’s tax plan also favored the wealthy, except the overall plan actually raised taxes on the state’s poorest because it included an expansion of the sales tax that the Ohio House rejected (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
Today is Tax Day, which means income tax returns have to be filed by midnight. If you’re in a rush, there are a variety of online tax filing services out there, particularly for state and federal taxes. Cincinnati’s e-filing service can be found here.
Cincinnati is outlining the time frame for police, firefighter and other layoffs that the city says it must undertake to balance the budget. The layoffs are currently set for June 9, with layoff letters going out by then. The city administration says the layoffs are necessary because the city’s plan to lease its parking assets has been held up in court and a referendum effort, eliminating the use of parking funds to help balance the budget in time for fiscal year 2014. Opponents say there are alternatives, but Mayor Mark Mallory and the city’s budget gurus recently criticized the suggestions as misleading and unworkable.
Ohio House Republicans are once again attempting to defund Planned Parenthood in their latest budget plan, but this time they are also throwing in support for crisis pregnancy centers, which tout abstinence-only education, in a separate part of their budget proposal. The moves have sparked criticism from pro-choice groups around the state that say Republicans are trying to push their morality on women, while anti-abortion groups have praised the budget for enforcing family values and what they claim are more women’s health options.
The Medicaid expansion is uniting Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Democrats, mental health advocates and other health experts against the Ohio House Republicans’ budget proposal, which rejects the expansion. Supporters of the expansion point to studies that say the expansion will save the state money, insure nearly half a million Ohioans and help the state’s neediest, but Ohio Republicans say they’re concerned the federal funding backing the expansion will dry up at some point, even though there’s no historical precedent of the federal government failing to meet its Medicaid commitments.
State officials are moving to reform Ohio’s foster care system after several deaths were linked to poor oversight and regulations. The Foster Care Advisory Group sent out its suggestions last week, which include removing some rules to “normalize” foster children’s childhoods and eliminating county-by-county funding inequality.
Internet sweepstakes cafes have been closed in California and Florida — a move state officials are looking to replicate in Ohio.
Ohio gas prices are low this week.
A new state license plate design is now available.
A new strand of the bird flu is here, and it’s already killed 11 people in China.
Scientists have reconstructed the ancestor that came between the human and chimp.
As part of an effort supporting a state earned income tax credit (EITC), Policy Matters Ohio unveiled an interactive map today that shows the potential benefits to taxpayers in different counties.
For Hamilton County, about 19 percent of tax-filing households would qualify for the program. A 10-percent EITC would return about $15.6 million to households in Hamilton County, or about $225 on average for each qualifying filer. A 20-percent EITC would return about $31.2 million to Hamilton County, with each qualifying filer getting about $451 on average.
EITC is a tax credit that goes to working families, typically favoring low- and middle-income earners with children. It is already used by the federal government and several states to progressively reward employment.
Since then, Ohio House Republicans have rejected most of Kasich's tax proposals, instead downsizing the plan to a 7-percent across-the-board tax cut with no sales tax expansion.
Here is the interactive map, courtesy of Policy Matters:
Even as it faces budget cuts, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office says it wants more staff to keep up with higher jail populations — especially in light of a new measure that will keep more people detained until they appear in court. The measure is in response to some people never showing up to court after being released from jail. Staff are crediting the feasibility of the measure to Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil encouraging them to think “outside the box.” Still, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel says the cost of the program might require Neil to think “inside the box.”
The Ohio Tax Credit Authority is giving tax breaks to 13 businesses around the state in hopes of creating 1,417 jobs and spurring $83 million in investment. Seven of the projects are in the Hamilton, Butler and Clinton counties, with one in Cincinnati.
The Ohio House easily passed a bill that would effectively shut down Internet sweepstakes cafes, but the Ohio Senate is including the measure in a more comprehensive gambling bill. Senate President Keith Faber says there are a lot of issues related to gambling in Ohio, and the cafes are just one part of the problem.Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is one of many being targeted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun control ad campaign. Bloomberg is a leader in supporting more restrictive gun measures, and he’s planning on airing the ads in 13 states during the ongoing congressional spring break to push for stricter background checks and other new rules.
Ohio failed to show improvement in the latest infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In both 2009 and 2013, Ohio got a C- for its infrastructure, which translates to 2,462 structurally deficient bridges and puts about 42 percent of roadways as “poor” or “mediocre” quality. But the report might not be as bad as it sounds. The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer argues that the ASCE is notoriously too harsh.
Duke Energy rolled out a new logo yesterday.
A former Miami University student is facing charges for allegedly changing his grades.
More options aren’t always a good thing, according to some science. A new study found more choices can lead to bad, risky decisions.
Policy Matters Ohio is now pushing an earned income tax credit (EITC) that would benefit the state’s poor and middle class, including more than 822,000 working families. The plan could be a progressive replacement for Republican Gov. John Kasich’s proposed tax plan, which some reports claim disproportionately benefits the wealthy.
The EITC is a tax credit targeted at working people who have low to moderate income, particularly those with children. It is currently used by the federal government, 24 states and Washington, D.C.
The report from Policy Matters, a left-leaning policy research group, found a 10-percent EITC would cost about $184 million per year, producing an estimated $224 million in economic benefits, and a 20-percent EITC would cost about $367 million per year, producing an estimated $446 million in economic benefits.
If state legislators set aside Gov. John Kasich’s tax proposals, the state would be left with about $280.4 million in general revenue available for fiscal year 2014 and about $690.2 million available in fiscal year 2015, according to an analysis of Kasich’s budget bluebook. That would be more than enough money in fiscal year 2014 to pay for a 10-percent EITC, and even a 20-percent EITC would only eat up about half of available funds in fiscal year 2015.
Using a model from the nonpartisan Institute for Tax and Economic Policy, the Policy Matters report found a state EITC would benefit Ohioans making less than $51,000 per year. Under a 10-percent credit, qualifying families making less than $18,000 would get $190 on average, qualifying families making between $18,000 and $33,000 would get $323 on average and qualifying families making between $33,000 and $51,000 would get $149 on average, according to the report.
Under a 20-percent credit, benefits would be bumped up to $381 on average for qualifying families making less than $18,000 per year, $646 on average for qualifying families making between $18,000 and $33,000 and $298 for qualifying families making between $33,000 and $51,000, according to the report.
These benefits would then be spent in a way that helps families, local communities and small businesses, according to the Policy Matters report: “Families that claim the EITC use the refunds to pay for basic needs like housing, food, transportation and child care. These purchases stimulate local economies. A number of studies focusing on the economic impacts of the EITC find that small businesses and other taxes benefit from a cash infusion into the local economy.”
The report claims a state EITC would also result in a fairer tax system that better helps the state’s low- and middle-income earners, stronger incentives to work and better social and economic results for EITC recipients.
The Policy Matters report touts the federal EITC, which was created by former President Gerald Ford in 1975 and has been expanded by every presidential administration since, to support adopting a similar policy in the state: “The federal Earned Income Tax Credit does more than any other program to keep working families out of poverty. … (It) is lauded for its direct impact in keeping families with children above the poverty line, making work pay, and sending federal dollars to local communities.”
Anyone making $50,270 a year or less qualifies for the federal EITC. The tax credit is built so it particularly benefits families with children, and it “encourages families making at or near minimum wage to work more hours since the credit has a longer, more gradual phase-out range compared to other programs,” according to the Policy Matters report.
The report says the federal EITC has already benefited more than 950,000 Ohio families with an average refund of $2,238.
In previous analyses, Policy Matters found Kasich’s tax proposals disproportionately benefit the wealthy and actually raise taxes on the state’s poor and middle class (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20). But Kasich says his tax plan will cut taxes for “job creators,” particularly the state’s small businesses.
The governor’s tax proposals are facing bipartisan resistance, and the Republican-controlled Ohio House is currently considering setting the proposals aside while the rest of the budget is worked out, according to Gongwer.
In a press conference on March 14, local officials around the state, including Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, suggested dropping income tax cuts and instead using the revenue to restore local government funding cuts, which have totaled $1.4 billion since Kasich took office.
Cincinnati’s plan to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains on hold as a lawsuit arguing the law should be subject to referendum works through the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and takes away the possibility of a referendum. Emergency clauses are routinely deployed in City Council, but opponents of the parking plan say that doesn’t make them right.
Whether the parking deal does go through or not, the Tower Place Mall renovations will be carried out. The city originally included the renovations as part of the plan, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the city is planning on selling the the property to a subsidiary of JDL Warm Construction for an undisclosed sum, and the company will then pay an estimated $5 million for the redevelopment.
Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand the sales tax to fund tax cuts is being heavily criticized by some members of the business community, but Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance & Appropriations Committee, says he is looking into ways to save the proposal. Kasich’s plan would expand the application of the sales tax to include more services, including cable TV and admission to sport events, but it would lower the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and carry out 20-percent across-the-board income tax cuts. CityBeat wrote about Kasich’s budget proposal in further detail here.
As part of Kasich’s education plans, the state’s school voucher program is expanding to help students meet a Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-graders pass a test in reading proficiency before they can move onto fourth grade. Supporters argue the voucher program provides more choice and control for parents, but opponents say the state should not be paying for private educations. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice through more vouchers can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
State Auditor Dave Yost is pushing for a full audit of JobsOhio, the publicly funded private, nonprofit agency, but Republican state legislators are joining Kasich in opposition. The opposing Republicans say the state auditor can track any public funds used for JobsOhio, but they say the agency is allowed to keep its private funds under wraps. Kasich says he plans to replace the Ohio Department of Development, which can be fully audited by the state auditor at any time, with JobsOhio.
The Ohio Department of Education apparently knew or should have known of ongoing data scrubbing in schools as early as 2008, according to The Toledo Blade. Emails acquired by The Blade show officials analyzed and discussed data reports that year after media reports detailed how urban districts excluded thousands of test scores on state report cards.
Supporters of the Anna Louise Inn gathered Friday in celebration of International Women’s Day and to stand against Western & Southern’s repeated efforts to run the Inn out of the neighborhood.
The U.S. Census Bureau says Cincinnati commutes are much shorter than the national average, with only 2.9 percent of Cincinnatians spending more than 60 minutes one-way during their commute, as compared to the 8.1 percent national average.
The Cincinnati Enquirer unveiled its new tabloid format today. Ben Kaufman says it looks nice and arrived on time.
The Killers are coming to the Horseshoe Casino.
A new study says results from fMRI scans are unintentionally distorted and inaccurate — to the point that some studies on the human brain that use fMRI results may be seriously questionable.
A YouTube video that went viral over the weekend may have broken the rosy illusions the average American has about wealth and income inequality.
Using data from Mother Jones,
Dan Ariely, ThinkProgress and CNN, the video compares the average American’s ideal distribution of wealth, what the average American says wealth inequality looks like and how wealth is distributed in reality — ultimately showing that the average American says the nation is much more equal than it really is.
The video suggests investment income as one of the drivers of inequality. The top 1 percent wealthiest Americans hold 50 percent of the nation’s stocks, bonds and mutual funds, while the bottom 50 percent of Americans only hold 0.5 percent of such investments, according to the video.
“The average worker needs to work more than a month to earn what the CEO makes in one hour,” the narrator says.
In the past, the United States was a lot closer to equality. As the video points out, the top 1 percent only took home 9 percent of the nation’s income in 1976. Today, that number is up to 24 percent.
Ohio isn’t immune to the trend. A previous report from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found Ohio’s income gap — the income difference between the rich and poor — is wide and growing, and low-income and middle-income Ohioans have actually seen their incomes drop since the 1990s.
The video doesn’t make any suggestions on how to fix the problem — it simply shows massive inequality exists — but there are plenty of ideas out there. A paper from the Congressional Research Service suggested the tax system may be playing a role in driving up income and wealth inequality: “However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be correlated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. … The statistical analysis in this report suggests that tax policy could be related to how the economic pie is sliced — lower top tax rates may be associated with greater income disparities.”
In December, The Washington Post posted 10 empirically supported ideas, which included funding preschool education, making unions easier to join and promoting trade in highly skilled professions.
In his 2013 State of the Union, President Barack Obama suggested raising the federal minimum wage to help combat poverty and income inequality — a policy that economist Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute recently advocated.
Here is the full video:
While fact checking an interview, CityBeat discovered it will be possible to circumvent the parking plan’s cap on meter rate increases through a multilayer process that involves approval from a special committee, the city manager and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. The process adds a potential loophole to one of the city manager’s main defenses against fears of skyrocketing rates, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says raising the cap requires overcoming an extensive series of hurdles: unanimous approval from a board with four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, affirmation from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. Olberding says the process is necessary in case anything changes during the 30-year time span of the parking deal, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley launched DontSellCincinnati.org to prevent the city manager’s parking plan, which semi-privatizes the city’s parking assets. The website claims the plan gives for-profit investment companies power over enforcement, guarantees 3-percent rate increases every year and blows through all the money raised in two years. The plan does task a private company with enforcement, but it will be handled by Xerox, not a financial firm, and must follow standards set in the company’s agreement with the Port Authority. While the plan does allow 3-percent rate increases each year, Olberding says the Port Authority will have the power to refuse an increase — meaning it’s not a guarantee.
Arnol Elam, the Franklin City Schools superintendent who sent an angry letter to Gov. John Kasich over his budget plan, is no longer being investigated for misusing county resources after he paid $539 in restitution. CityBeat covered Elam’s letter, which told parents and staff about regressive funding in Kasich’s school funding proposal, and other parts of the governor’s budget in an in-depth cover story.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio’s oil lobby is still against Kasich’s tax plan, which raises a 4 percent severance tax on oil and wet gas from high-producing fracking wells and a 1 percent tax on dry gas.
Local faith leaders from a diversity of religious backgrounds held a press conference yesterday to endorse the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment, an amendment from FreedomOhio that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Pastor Mike Underhill of the Nexus United Church of Christ (UCC) in Butler County, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom, Pamela Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values and Mike Moroski, who recently lost his job as assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School for standing up for LGBT rights all attended the event. CityBeat covered the amendment and its potential hurdles for getting on the 2013 ballot here.
Vanessa White, a member of the Cincinnati Public Schools board, is running for City Council. White is finishing her first four-year term at the board after winning the seat handily in 2009. She has said she wants to stop the streetcar project, but she wants to increase collaboration between the city and schools and create jobs for younger people.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) policy on providing driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants remains unclear. Since CityBeat broke the story on the BMV policy, the agency has shifted from internally pushing against driver’s licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to officially “reviewing guidance from the federal government as it applies to Ohio law.” DACA is an executive order from President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for permits that enable them to remain in the United States without fear of prosecution.
A survey from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments found locals are generally satisfied with roads, housing and issues that affect them everyday. The survey included 2,500 people and questions about energy efficiency, infrastructure, public health, schools and other issues.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine revealed 7,000 Ohioans have received more than $280 million in consumer relief as part of the National Mortgage Settlement announced one year ago. The $25 billion settlement between the federal government and major banks punishes reckless financial institutions and provides relief to homeowners in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Ohio received a $3 million federal grant to continue improving the state’s health care payments and delivery programs.
Cincinnati home sales reached a six-year high after a 27-percent jump in January.
CityBeat’s Hannah “McAttack” McCartney interviewed yours truly for the first post of her Q&A-based blog, Cinfolk.
Crows have a sense of fairness, a new study found.