Two Ohio senators, including Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, are pushing a bill that will require the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to grant driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants. The senators claim state BMV offices are inconsistently applying President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of prosecution, but the Ohio Department of Public Safety says the issue is still under review. CityBeat originally broke the story after hearing of Ever Portillo’s experiences at a Columbus BMV office here, and a follow-up story covered the internal conflict at the BMV over the issue here.
Ohio officials have said the state has only put $1 million toward JobsOhio, but records recently acquired by The Columbus Dispatch show $5.3 million in funding has been directed to the program
so far, and the public investment could be as high as $9 million. State
officials said the funding is necessary because constitutional
challenges, which the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up,
have held up the program’s original source of funding — state liquor
profits. JobsOhio is a nonprofit company established with the support of
Gov. John Kasich that’s meant to attract investment and bring jobs to
the state. Kasich says he wants to replace the Ohio Department of Development with the nonprofit company in the future.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote yesterday, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote tomorrow. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered, would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration. Critics are worried the city will give up too much control of its parking assets as part of the deal, and concerns about the city’s long-term deficits remain. The alternatives — plans B, C and S — would fix structural deficit problems, while the budget only helps balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years.
The company that will operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the parking deal is approved by City Council had problems in the past, according to a tip received by multiple news outlets from Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing. One of the issues is a 2007 audit, which found ACS mismanaged parking meters in Washington, D.C. Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit was based on “faulty information,” and a lot of the problems found were because the auditor improperly read parking meter screen displays.
An approved commitment by the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (HCTID) may ensure a rail service is ready for Cincinnati in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing for local and state governments to break down any barriers for Oasis Rail Transit, which will carry passengers from Downtown to Milford.
The Ohio Board of Education will decide between two candidates for state superintendent next week: acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers or Dick Ross, Gov. John Kasich’s top education adviser.
After years of development and anticipation, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino opened yesterday. The casino comes with the promise of jobs and economic development, but it also poses the risk of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide. State and local legislators are also looking forward to extra government revenue from the casino, even though casino revenue around the state has fallen short of projections. For Over-the-Rhine residents, the grand opening, which culminated in a fireworks display, was sort of like being in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Livability.com named Cincinnati the No. 10 spring break destination because of the Cincinnati Zoo, Botanical Garden, IKEA, Cincinnati Art Museum, the 21c Museum Hotel, Newport Aquarium and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, among other places and family-friendly activities.
Science doesn’t want pregnant women to be capable of anything.
Here are two pictures of Venus from Saturn’s view.
Gov. John Kasich says he’s cutting everyone’s taxes in his 2014-2015 budget, but an analysis released Thursday found the plan is actually raising taxes for the poor and middle class. The Policy Matters Ohio report reveals the poorest Ohioans will see a tax increase of $63 from Kasich’s budget plan, while the top 1 percent will see a tax decrease of $10,369.
For the poorest Ohioans, the new tax burden comes through the sales tax. On average, the bottom 20 percent of the income ladder will have their income taxes reduced by $8, but the sales tax plan will actually increase their average sales tax burden by $71.
The middle 20 percent fares slightly better. Under the budget proposal, they will get
a $157 income tax cut on average, but their sales tax burden will go up by
$165 — meaning they'll end up paying $8 more in taxes.
The top 1 percent get the most out of Kasich’s tax plan.
Their income taxes will be reduced by a whopping $11,150. The top 1 percent
do see the highest sales tax increase at $781, but it’s nowhere near
enough to make up for the massive income tax cut.
Kasich says his budget is all about creating jobs and spurring the economy, but the regressive tax system defies economic research. A previous analysis from the Congressional Budget
Office (CBO), which measures the budgetary and economic impact of
federal policy, found
letting tax cuts expire on the wealthy would barely dent the economy. The same report also found the economy greatly benefits from tax and social welfare programs that
disproportionately benefit the lower and middle classes.
Another report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) also concluded tax hikes on the rich would have negligible economic impact. The findings made national Republicans so angry that they pressured CRS to pull the report. CRS later re-released the study — except this time it had nicer language to appease politicians that can’t handle reality.
Kasich’s plan proposes cutting the state income tax by 20 percent across the board and lowering the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5 percent. To pay for the cuts, the proposal broadens the sales tax so it applies to additional services — including cable TV services, coin-operated video games and admission to sports events and amusement parks — while keeping exemptions for education, health care, rent and residential utilities.
For more analysis of Kasich’s budget, check out CityBeat’s other coverage:
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.”
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125 million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project, everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank check.’”
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through “intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher costs.
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh Mandel met once again Thursday night for a debate to see who is more qualified for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat. The candidates were a bit less feisty in their final debate, but the substance behind their words was fairly similar to the past two debates.
Mandel spent a bit less time attacking Brown for “Washington speak,” and Brown spent a bit less time attacking Mandel for dishonesty. However, Mandel did spend a bit more time attacking Brown for being a “career politician,” and both candidates criticized each other for voting along party lines.
Some new details did emerge when Brown and Mandel discussed Social Security. Mandel clarified he would raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare for those around his age — 35 — and younger. To justify the raise, he said life expectancy has grown since those laws were first put into place. He also claimed, “If we maintain the status quo, which is the way of Washington, there will be no Medicare or Social Security.”
Brown responded by saying he wouldn’t raise the eligibility age or reduce benefits, but he would increase the payroll tax cap.
In the case of Mandel’s proposal, there is some important context missing. While it’s true life expectancy has increased in the U.S., it has not increased at the same level for everyone. A 2008 study by the Congressional Budget Office found life expectancy is lagging for low-income individuals, while it’s steadily rising for the wealthiest Americans. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology had similar findings. These studies show increases in the average life expectancy may not be reflective of what’s actually happening within the poor and even middle class. In other words, raising the eligibility age to match the rise in life expectancy could disproportionately hurt the lower classes.
There are also some holes in gauging the eligibility age for entitlement programs with a rise in the average life expectancy. Social Security was enacted in 1935. Between the law passing and 2007, the U.S. child mortality rate dropped about 3.3 percent per year for children between the ages of one and four, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This large drop in child mortality rate could be exaggerating gains in life expectancy, which is an average that takes into account the age of deceased children.
Mandel’s implication that raising the eligibility age is the only way to keep Social Security solvent is also misleading. Currently, the payroll tax is set up so it only taxes the first $110,100 of everyone’s income. A Congressional Research Service study from 2010 found eliminating the cap would keep the Social Security Trust Funds solvent for the next 75 years. The downside is this would raise taxes for anyone making more than $110,100. Still, the fact eliminating the cap would extend the trust funds’ solvency shows there are other options, and it shows Brown’s idea of increasing the cap has some fiscal merit.
However, Mandel would not be able to take Brown’s approach because it would mean raising taxes, which Mandel vowed to not do under any circumstance when he signed lobbyist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.
For the final debate, Mandel and Brown followed similar paths as before and even recited some of the exact same lines. At this point, the candidates have painted clear contrasts. With three debates and a year of campaigning behind them, it’s now clear Brown is mostly the liberal, Democratic choice and Mandel is mostly the conservative, Republican choice.
After a year of campaigns, the race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is almost over. All eyes are on Ohio to decide the presidential election. In aggregate polling, Obama leads Romney by 2.9 points in Ohio and 0.7 points nationally. FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times’ electoral forecast model, gives Obama a 91.4 percent chance to win Ohio and a 91.6 percent chance to win the election. The New York Times also has an interactive flowchart to gauge both Obama's and Romney's paths to victory.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown leads Republican challenger Josh Mandel by 5 points in aggregate polling. CityBeat covered the policy and campaign differences between the two candidates in coverage of the first, second and third debate and a cover story.
Gov. John Kasich has taken a noticeable shift to the center and considered less divisive ideas in recent months, and some of that might be to help Romney’s electoral chances in Ohio. In the past two years, Kasich went from supporting SB 5, which would have limited collective bargaining for public employees, to focusing almost entirely on jobs.
While we focus on voting on Earth, astronauts in space also vote.
Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, laid out his budget plan yesterday. Hartmann touted “austerity” as a prominent theme in the budget. Austerity measures actually led Europe into a second recession, according to prominent economist Robert Reich. This matches the opinion of other economists, such as Nobel-winning Paul Krugman, who argue governments should try to make up for shortfalls in the private sector through increased spending during recessions. Recently, the International Monetary Fund admitted it underestimated the bad economic impact of austerity measures. Still, Hamilton County is required to balance its budget, so the commissioners don’t have many options. Todd Portune, the lone Democratic commissioner, says he will unveil his plan later.
The new Jungle Jim’s at Eastgate is having a large, positive impact on its neighbors. The exotic grocery store has apparently brought a lot of new paying customers to the area.
Cincinnati’s Oakley neighborhood might soon put its traffic problems in the past. City Council is expected to vote on a plan Wednesday that would block three streets in the neighborhood. Residents have complained traffic is out of control because of development at the Rookwood Exchange in Norwood, and traffic could get worse due to the holiday shopping season.
Workers injured during the construction of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino are looking for a way around workers comp rules. The exemption-seeking lawsuit filed by four workers against 13 defendants is typical in Ohio law, which generally prevents workers from suing employers over workplace injuries since Ohio’s compensation rules provide ways to obtain missing wages and other potential damages.
Time Warner Cable is hiring for more than 50 positions in Cincinnati.
A new partnership between the Memorial Hall Society, 3CDC and Hamilton County’s commissioners may revitalize Hamilton County’s Memorial Hall. The hall is one of Hamilton County’s architectural treasures, but a lack of renovations has left it behind modern developments, including air conditioning.
Some of Ohio’s exotic animal owners are not happy with a new law that requires registering and micro-chipping exotic animals, so they are suing the state.
A Cleveland woman that drove on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus that was unloading children will have to wear a sign that says, “Only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.” She will have to wear the sign at an intersection for one hour a day for two days next week.
On Sunday, an amputee climbed 103 stories using a mind-controlled bionic leg. Oh, science.
A new analysis suggests that tax revenue from Ohio’s new casinos will not be enough to make up for state spending cuts to cities and counties. The findings of the Oct. 1 analysis, by left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, apply even to casinos and big cities that get extra casino tax revenue. They still lose twice in state aid what they get in new taxes, according to the report.
Overall, the analysis found that new casino revenue will provide $227 million a year to counties and cities. In total, state aid to counties and cities has been cut by about $1 billion. That means the tax revenue isn’t even one quarter of what cities and counties will need to make up for cuts.
The cuts also won’t be enough to make up for state cuts to schools. When casino plans propped up around the state, governments promised that revenue from casinos would be used to build up schools. However, state aid to K-12 education has been cut by $1.8 billion, and new tax revenue will only make up 0.5 to 1.5 percent of those cuts in most school districts, according to the Policy Matters report.
In 2013, Cincinnati will become the fourth Ohio city with a casino. Cleveland and Toledo have casinos, and a new casino opened in Columbus Oct. 8.
Currently, the system is set up so each casino is taxed at 33 percent of gross revenues. That revenue is split into many pieces with approximately 34 percent going to the school fund. Each city with a casino also gets an exclusive 5 percent of its casino’s revenue.
For Cincinnati, that means about $12.1 million in new annual tax revenue. But even with that revenue, Cincinnati will still be losing about $17.7 million in state funding, according to calculations from Policy Matters.
In past interviews, Rob Nichols, spokesperson for Gov. John Kasich, has repeatedly cited the constitutional requirement to balance Ohio’s budget to defend any state budget cuts: “The reality is we walked into an $8 billion budget deficit. We had to fix that.”
Cuts Hurt Ohio, a website showing cuts to state aid, was launched by Policy Matters earlier this year. That website found $2.88 billion in cuts to state aid with $1.8 billion in cuts to education and $1.08 billion in cuts to local governments. In Hamilton County, that translated to a $136 million cut to education and a $105 million cut to local government.
The report does caution that its findings are “necessarily tentative”: “Projected revenues have come down significantly since the 2009 campaign for the casino proposal, and the expected opening of numerous gambling facilities makes it hard to be sure what revenues will be. We estimate casino tax revenue based on several sources, including state agencies, casino operators, and former taxation department analyst Mike Sobul. Our numbers reflect a comparatively optimistic assessment.”
The Medicaid expansion would add more Ohioans to the state-federal health care program by raising the eligibility threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 90 percent. The budget summary claims the expansion makes financial sense for the state as long as the federal government picks up most of the tab. As part of Obamacare, the federal government takes all the costs for newly insured Medicaid recipients for the first three years. After that, the federal government’s share is brought down to 95 percent and ultimately phased down to 90 percent. If the federal government reneges on its promise to pay for the bulk of the share, Kasich’s budget has a trigger to wind down the Medicaid expansion.
The budget also proposes income and sales tax cuts, which would come with some trade-offs. The state income tax would be brought down by 20 percent across the board, and the sales tax would be cut from 5.5 percent to 5 percent. To balance the cuts, Kasich has proposed broadening the sales tax to include other “economic activity,” while keeping exemptions for education, health care, rent and residential utilities.
In another slew of tax changes, Kasich’s plan proposes revamping the oil and gas severance tax. It would eliminate the tax for “small, conventional natural gas producers,” but imposes a 4 percent tax for bigger oil and gas producers.
In the past, liberals have voiced opposition to tax cuts — instead favoring investments elsewhere. Policy Matters Ohio released its own budget proposals Jan. 31, which emphasized “education, health care and human services.” The plan would also increase the income tax for top earners.
City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement criticizing Kasich’s budget for not using the extra revenue to scale back local government and education cuts enacted in the 2012-2013 budget: “At a time when local governments around the state are being forced to slash basic services, lay off safety personnel, raise taxes, and sell off assets just to stay afloat, it's out of touch for Gov. Kasich not to reverse his raid on our local government fund. We don’t pay taxes to pad the governor’s soundbites, we pay them to maintain our roads and keep cops on the street. This should not be a partisan issue. It's simply illogical governance to make the state look good while in the process hurting Ohio's cities.”
Cincinnati City Council plans to move $29 million in funds to avoid further delays for the streetcar
project, but the city is still looking at a 2015 opening date. City officials announced Wednesday that a council
committee will vote Monday on three pieces of legislation to keep the
$110 million project in line with the recently announced delayed opening.
One measure would front $15 million to help Duke Energy move underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route. That money comes from the recent $37 million sale of land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
The city thinks it will get this money back once a dispute with Duke is resolved. The city contends that Duke is responsible for moving the lines, which the utility estimates will cost $18.7 million. Duke counters that the lines only have to be moved because of the streetcar construction, so the city should foot the bill.
“We’re fronting money for the Duke work until we can work out who pays for it with Duke,” city spokeswoman Meg Oldberding said. “It’s to keep the project on time and on budget. Delays would escalate the cost.”
Another ordinance would change the municipal code to “confirm the city’s existing rights” and clarify that utilities pay for the cost of relocating facilities unless otherwise negotiated, according to a news release.
Oldberding said Cincinnati has always maintained that it is the utility’s responsibility to relocate their facilities, so it is not a change in the city’s position.
The final ordinance would change the funding source that is repaying $25 million in bonds sold as part of the original plan to fund the streetcar.
Those bonds were originally being repaid with money coming into city coffers from southern downtown and the riverfront area.
That area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as expected, so the ordinance would have $14 million of the bonds repaid from a 1995 fund set up to collect service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks.
Oldberding said once the downtown district rebounds — it includes the Banks and the casino — it would repay the other fund.
The ordinances would not add to the project’s cost. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year.
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.
“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”
CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.