The Glenn is under construction in San Diego, where a keel-laying ceremony signifying the initial step in construction was held earlier this week. When it enters the fleet, which is expected in 2015, the vessel will be 837 feet long and displace 80,000 tons when loaded. Navy officials say they can use it for both warfighting and humanitarian missions. The ship was in the Pentagon budget before the current debate over the fiscal cliff and defense spending cuts got under way. Meanwhile, NASA is no longer able to put astronauts in orbit because funding for manned flights ended when the space shuttles were grounded.
John Glenn was a Marine pilot who became one of NASA’s seven original Mercury astronauts. He was friendly with John F. Kennedy, who recruited him to become a politician. During his years in the Senate, he was among Ohio’s most popular elected officials. Glenn ran for president in 1984 but didn’t make it out of the primaries. He was a flop as a national candidate.
Navy officials say they plan to build three ships similar to the USNS John Glenn, which are designed as giant sea-going supply and troop platforms. They can carry three hovercraft for amphibious operations. The Navy calls the ships Mobile Landing Platforms and says the design is based on the huge commercial supertankers that carry crude oil from Alaska.
Glenn is in his nineties and attended the keel-laying ceremony. He is active and campaigned last fall for President Barack Obama’s reelection.
There’s a catch — municipal employees only get the raises and job security if the city’s parking meters, garages and surface lots are leased to a private company for 30 years.
City Manager Milton Dohoney wants to lease the facilities for at least $40 million upfront and a share of parking profits for the next 30 years. He’d use $21 million of the upfront payment to patch a $34 million deficit in the city’s budget.
During recent budget hearings before City Council, Dohoney said extra revenue was needed to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
In a memo to the mayor and city council members, Dohoney outlined the agreement between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Any municipal employees who will lose their jobs because of the deal would be placed in other city jobs with no loss of wages. No city employees covered by the union would be laid off between 2013 and 2016. City employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost of living raise for the 2013-2014 contract year and another 1 percent raise for the next contract year. AFSCME members will continue city vehicle maintenance work from 2013-2016.
However, if City Council doesn’t approve of the plan to privatize parking, city employees get nothing.
Public employees in Cincinnati have not been given raises in almost four years. Meanwhile, council voted last month to give Dohoney a 10 percent raise and a $35,000 bonus. Dohoney had not received a merit raise since 2007, but had collected cost of living adjustments and bonuses over the years.
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.
The resolution expresses council’s dissatisfaction with the Ohio Legislature for granting “special privileges to the oil and natural gas industry” and asks it to repeal any laws that pre-empt local control over drilling.
The resolution targets the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which uses chemically-laced water to free up natural gas trapped in shale formations underneath Ohio.
Fracking opponents worry that the chemicals used in the fluid — which companies aren’t required to disclose — can be toxic to people and animals.
Prior to the council vote, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan held a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
“I believe local officials should have a say on all matters related to potentially hazardous activities such as fracking,” Quinlivan said in an emailed statement. “I urge my colleagues to send a strong message to the Ohio Governor, the Ohio Legislature, and Cincinnati residents by passing this resolution.”
A 2004 state law puts regulation of oil and gas drilling
under the state’s purview, preventing municipalities from regulating
drilling on their land.
Copies of the resolution will be sent to Gov. John Kasich and members of the Ohio General Assembly elected from the Cincinnati area. The resolution comes after Ohio recently lifted a moratorium on new injection wells, which shoot wastewater deep underground for storage.
There had been a temporary ban on new wells almost a year ago after seismologists said an injection was to blame for 11 earthquakes around the Youngstown area.
City council in August passed an ordinance to band injection wells within city limits. Because the injection well ban doesn’t mention drilling, council hoped it wouldn’t clash with the state law preventing local regulation of oil and gas drilling.
The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every $100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.
The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.
“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same thing we are doing today,” Portune said.
Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to 6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10 years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the first five.
Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.
Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund stable in years to come.
Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow the tax increase to expire.
Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.
Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with either choice.
“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.
Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for the rollback reduction.
Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change, a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make to help out with the stadium funding burden.
The partnership will aid small businesses and startups through crowd funding, which connects multiple potential lenders so no single investor, including the city government, is carrying the a bulk of the burden. Since crowd funding gets more investors involved, it can also raise more money for promising startups and small businesses.
Businesses will be picked through SoMoLend’s typical application process, which emphasizes startups and small businesses. Successful applicants usually have 15 or fewer employees, meet a few standards regarding business and personal finances and prove they actually need a commercial loan. In the past, businesses have raised as much as $1 million in loans with SoMoLend.
Applicants will also have to go through the city’s application process. The city government will look at how many jobs are created, what’s the capital investment involved, how much the city will give relative to private lenders and other similar metrics.
Even as the economy recovers, small businesses and startups are having a tough time getting loans in comparison to bigger businesses. So the focus on small businesses and startups is in part to bring beneficial fairness to the system, says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson. “Access to capital at all levels has to happen. And the city government feels like small businesses are key to growth in our local economy.”
The partnership’s focus on startups is economically sound. Governments and politicians love to herald small businesses as the drivers of economic growth, but studies suggest startups are more deserving of the praise. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that young small businesses, or startups, are the key drivers to economic and job growth.
As for why SoMoLend was picked over other platforms, Olberding says location and history played a role: “It’s a local small business, so it’s … demonstrating what we’re talking about. It’s also a demonstrated success in terms of bringing viable businesses to the market.”
The partnership is part of an ongoing effort to spur small businesses and startups in Cincinnati. SBAC was created in 2012 to pave a clearer, better path that encourages such businesses in the city. SBAC reviewed, gave feedback and approved the new partnership earlier today.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, head of SBAC, praised the partnership in a statement: “I am excited that the SBAC approved the city’s new partnership with SoMoLend today. By making city lending more efficient and expanding the network of small businesses receiving city assistance, this new partnership fits well into the SBAC’s goal of making Cincinnati a better place for small business.”
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.
America is a country at war. While the war in Iraq ostensibly drew down in December 2011, the United States has been quagmired in a war in Afghanistan for more than a decade.
But we're also in the midst of a number of other wars — cultural wars. It started with Nixon’s War on Drugs, then quickly escalated.
President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations on coal mining caused proponents to claim he had declared a War on Coal. The Affordable Care Act’s mandate that companies pay for employee contraception caused many faith groups to claim a War on Religion.
Statements from Republican politicians about “legitimate rape” and “binders full of women” caused some Democrats to claim the GOP had declared a War on Women.
And the ever-vigilant conspiracists news hounds at FOX News have exposed a scheme by Jesus-hating liberals to wage a War on Christmas for trying to remove constitutionally questionable dolled-up trees and pastoral scenes of babies in unsuitable barn-life cribbery faith-based displays from public property.
But by far the most heinous altercation being waged originated with Republican Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, who has declared a War on Babies.
As first reported by The Enquirer, conservative groups this week sent out a press release vilifying Niehaus for killing tons of babies in a mass effort to wipe out the state’s youth population a 17-month old bill that would give Ohio one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation.
Niehaus moved the so-called Heartbeat Bill — which would ban all abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat — from the Health Committee to the Rules and Reference Committee to avoid a forced vote on the legislation. He also removed staunch anti-abortion Senators Keith Faber and Shannon Jones from that committee.
“I’m shocked by Tom Niehaus’ war on pro-life women,” wrote Lori Viars in the news release. Viars is the vice president of Warren County Right to Life and vice chair of Warren County Republican Party.
Viars called for Republicans to remove Niehaus from Senate leadership. Niehaus is term-limited and will not continue on in office after this year.
Niehaus blamed Romney’s loss for his decision to kill the bill, saying that the Republican’s victory would have increased the likelihood of a U.S. Supreme Court lineup that would uphold it against a likely challenge.
Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved the first comprehensive plan in the last 32 years to direct future city growth and development.
All eight present members of council voted in favor of the plan, after a 10-minute “love-fest,” as Councilwoman Yvette Simpson put it, praising one another and the team that created the plan. The nine-member team worked on the comprehensive plan for the last three years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was not present for the vote.
“I can’t use the term that Joe Biden, our vice president used, but this is a big deal,” said Mayor Mark Mallory, referencing an infamous gaffe where Biden uttered an expletive into a hot microphone.
The 228-page plan emphasizes urban development over suburban, citing population movement back into city centers.
The plan focuses on key areas and offers proposals for the near-, middle- and long-terms.
These include proposals to stabilize residential and business areas, improve quality of life, improve housing choices and affordability and offer alternative means of transportation to automobiles, including the controversial streetcar.
CityBeat previously covered the plan in depth.
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.