by German Lopez
19 days ago
Streetcar budget fixes detailed, Senate kills 'right to work,' county fights infant mortality
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave his suggestions for fixing the streetcar budget gap Tuesday, and CityBeat analyzed the details here. The suggestion, which include temporarily using front-loaded Music Hall funds and pulling money from other capital projects, are capital budget items that can't be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits in state law, so if City Council approved the suggestions, the streetcar would not be saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other city employees being laid off to balance the operating budget.Ohio Senate Republicans seem unlikely to take up so-called "right to work" (RTW) legislation after it was proposed in the Ohio House. RTW legislation prevents unions and employers from making collective bargaining agreements that require union membership to be hired for a job, significantly weakening a union's leverage in negotiations by reducing membership. Since states began adopting the anti-union laws, union membership has dropped dramatically around the nation. Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, were quick to condemn the RTW bills and compare them to S.B. 5, a 2011 bill backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Republicans that would have limited collective bargaining powers for public employees and significantly reduced public sector unions' political power.Hamilton County commissioners approved a county-wide collaborative between health and government agencies to help reduce the county's infant mortality rate, which has exceeded the national average for more than a decade. Funding for the program will come in part from the sale of Drake Hospital to UC Health.With a 7-2 vote yesterday, City Council updated its "responsible bidder" ordinance, which requires job training from contractors working with the Metropolitan Sewer District, to close loopholes and include Greater Cincinnati Water Works projects. Councilman Chris Seelbach led the charge on the changes, which were opposed by council members Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn.Ohio Senate Democrats are still pushing the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found would insure 456,000 Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade. Ohio House Republicans effectively rejected the expansion with their budget bill, which the Ohio Senate is now reviewing. CityBeat covered the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.The state's Public Utilities Commissions of Ohio approved a 2.9 percent rate hike for Duke Energy, which will cost customers an average of $3.72 every month.Concealed carry permits issued in Ohio nearly doubled in the first three months of the year, following a wave of mass shootings in the past year and talks of federal gun control legislation.Real headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: "How much skin is too much skin for teens at prom?"A Pennsylvania woman who had been missing for 11 years turned herself in to authorities in Florida.New research shows early American settlers at Jamestown, Va., ate each other.
by German Lopez
20 days ago
Posted In: News
at 11:12 AM | Permalink
Recommendations would pull capital funding from multiple sources
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. released a memo yesterday detailing how the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap could be fixed by pulling funds from various capital projects and issuing more debt, upholding a promise he made at a contentious City Council meeting Monday.The five-page memo says none of the proposed capital funding sources can be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law, which means the streetcar project is not being saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other city employees being laid off to balance the operating budget."Neither Capital nor TIF funds can be used to help with the operating budget deficit that the City is facing," the memo reads. "They are separate sources of funds and by State Law, cannot be used for operating expenses like police and fire personnel."At least $5.4 million would be temporarily pulled from the $10.6 million planned for the Music Hall renovation project, but the redirected Music Hall funds would eventually come back in capital budgets for fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019. City spokesperson Meg Olberding explained in an email that moving funds around would not hinder the Music Hall project."The use of $5.4 million of Funds set aside for Music Hall this year is
money currently sitting in a fund for this year that will not be needed
this year," she wrote. "Funds for Music Hall will not be needed until 2016, the
agreed upon deadline for fundraising
for the Music Hall renovation with the Music Hall Revitalization
Company. Therefore, the City is still keeping its commitment to Music
Hall, while also advancing the streetcar project."About $6.5 million would be taken from infrastructure projects surrounding the Horseshoe Casino, including funds that would otherwise go to lighting the trees along Reading Road and a study that would look at adding a turn lane from Reading Road. The memo acknowledges the trade-off, but it also justifies the redirected spending: "However, since the Streetcar passes within two blocks of the Casino Site, it is a project within the Casino Area that both benefits the TIF District and the Casino."The memo also recommends pulling $400,000 that was originally set for traffic signal replacement, which would be used for the traffic replacement component of the streetcar project. Another $500,000 would come from funding currently set for water main relocation and replacement. The memo says the water main funding is simply Water Works' share: "Of the $21.7 million cost overrun for the Streetcar project, approximately $1 million was for water main relocation (and) replacement work. Water Works' share of this is $0.5 million."The remaining $4.6 million would come from the city issuing general capital debt, which would be paid back through a small portion of the income tax that is established in the City Charter for permanent improvement purposes. The memo acknowledges this would cost other economic development and housing projects $340,000 a year over the next 20 years, but it claims the funding is justified because the streetcar project is a permanent improvement project.The memo outlines other vague capital funding options that could be used to balance the budget, but Dohoney does not explicitly recommend them. The memo also leaves open the possibility of future sources of funding, including $15 million that could be opened up if the city prevails in court against Duke Energy over who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate streetcar tracks — but this was money that was originally supposed to go to neighborhood development projects — and the sale of remaining city-owned land at the Blue Ash Airport.City Council still has to consider and approve the memo's recommendations for them to become law.
by German Lopez
20 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:21 AM | Permalink
'Right to work' returns; memo details streetcar funding; more money, less mowing
Two Ohio House Republicans are preparing to introduce so-called "right to work" (RTW) legislation, a deceptively named type of law that would ban collective bargaining agreements between unions and employers that require union membership to be hired at a job. Since states began adopting the anti-union laws, union membership has dropped dramatically. Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, were quick to condemn the bills, invoking 2011's voter rejection of S.B. 5, a bill backed by Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Republicans that would have limited collective bargaining rights for public employees and hindered public sector unions' political power.The city released a memo yesterday outlining how the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap will be funded. The memo emphasizes that the capital funds being used for the streetcar project can't be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of state law, so the streetcar project is not being saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other public employees being laid off to balance the operating budget. CityBeat will have a more thorough analysis of the memo shortly after this article is published.The state auditor released an audit yesterday that shows the Ohio Department of Transportation could save $7.4 million in taxpayer money by mowing the lawn less often. "We need to cut back by
mowing less," State Auditor Dave Yost said in a statement. "Sometimes, it’s the simplest
solutions that have the greatest impact."A Policy Matters Ohio survey confirmed Ohio schools are making cuts as a result of Kasich's education funding cuts. In total, 70 percent of schools slashed budgets for the 2012-2013 school year.The mayor and city manager held a roundtable with the press yesterday explaining the merits of the city's plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. The city officials made the same arguments heard before about how it would help balance the budget and bring economic development to the city, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.If estimates are correct, this year's Flying Pig Marathon will bring $9.5 million into Greater Cincinnati's economy.In light of grim drug addiction and overdose statistics recently released, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says it's time to call the "war on drugs" something else. The most recent data found one Ohioan died of a drug overdose every five hours on average in 2011.Next Tuesday is primary election day in Ohio, but there isn't much to vote on in southwest Ohio.Steve Smith, who admitted to raping and killing a six-month-old in Mansfield, Ohio, will be executed by the state today, but his relatives insist he didn't do it.Gladys, the unfortunately named gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, recently got a look at her new home.Antimatter is the opposite of matter, but it's unclear whether it falls up or down.
by German Lopez
21 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
by German Lopez
22 days ago
Streetcar meeting today, Ohio Senate to modify energy law, state is no 'economic miracle'
City Hall will be hosting a meeting on the streetcar project at 6
p.m. today to figure out what the project’s options are now that it has a $17.4 million budget gap. The meeting was called by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained in a memo that the project has a budget gap because construction bids came in
$26 million to $43 million over budget.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the the Senate Public Utilities Committee, says he wants to “modify,” not repeal, Ohio’s Clean Energy Law
to have more clear-cut compliance standards. Environmentalists say
they’re concerned Seitz will use the review as a front to
water the law down, especially since electricity giant FirstEnergy is pushing
against the law’s energy efficiency standards. CityBeat wrote more about the conflict between environmentalists and FirstEnergy here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading liberal and conservative think tanks apparently agree on: Ohio is not the “economic miracle”
often touted by Gov. John Kasich. In the past year, job numbers for the
state have been particularly weak, with public sector losses nearly
making up for very weak private sector gains. The right-leaning Buckeye
Institute for Public Policy Solutions says a complicated tax system is
largely to blame for the stagnant job growth, while the left-leaning
Policy Matters Ohio is mostly focusing on governments’ budget austerity.
A student allegedly shot himself
in front of classmates at LaSalle High School today. Police say he is
currently at a hospital, and there are currently no reports of anyone
else being shot. As of 10:30 a.m., the situation was still developing.After misleading media reports sent the public into a furor, Mayor Mark Mallory agreed to rescind salary raises
that were part of his office’s deficit-reducing budget plan. The plan
gave the mayor’s top aides raises to make up for an increased workload following staff reductions. Even with the raises, the plan
reduced the deficit by $33,000 during the mayor’s remaining time in
office — a fact originally omitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Music Hall’s facelift is not happening just yet,
even though approvals from City Council and the Music Hall
Revitalization Company have already paved the way for Cincinnati Center
City Development Corporation (3CDC) to begin renovations. As project
manager, 3CDC will take four to six months to develop a budget, review
designs and go over the legal and financial work necessary to start the
project.Hamilton County is currently tracking to be $1.5 million over budget this year — a budget hole the Board of Commissioners hopes to plug by using the rainy day fund.
One section of the Ohio House budget bill would allow charter schools to enroll out-of-state students and charge them tuition. The policy could involve online schools, which were previously found to have poor results in a CityBeat report.
The relaxed rules potentially add more controversy to a budget plan that’s
already mired in criticism for defunding Planned Parenthood and forgoing
the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.Ohio gas prices are starting 9 cents down this week.
Bad news: The largest HIV vaccine study was shut down after patients contracted the AIDS virus more often than those who didn’t take it.
by German Lopez
26 days ago
Budget pushes conservative policy, moms demand action on guns, mayor shrinking budget
For this week’s cover story, CityBeat analyzed the Ohio House budget bill that would defund
Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the
Medicaid expansion in favor of broader reforms. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House last week, but it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Ohio Senate President Keith
Faber announced yesterday that the Ohio Senate will not move forward
with the Medicaid expansion — a sign the Ohio Senate is agreeing with the Ohio House on that issue.
Facing the recent wave of deadly gun attacks around the nation, some moms have banded together to demand action. Moms Demand Action is using its political clout to push gun control legislation at a federal level, but it’s also promoting grassroots campaigns in cities and states around the nation.
Contrary to The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “exclusive” story, the mayor’s office is actually shrinking its budget
by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1 despite plans to give some
employees raises. The mayor’s office says the raises are necessary
because the employees will be taken a bigger workload to make up for
reduced staff levels, but the budgetary moves will save money overall.
Originally, The Enquirer reported the raises without noting the savings in the
rest of the budget plan, inspiring a wave of angry emails from readers
to the mayor’s office through The Enquirer’s “tell them what you think” tool.
This week’s commentary: “Streetcar’s No. 1 Problem: Obstructionism.”
At the NAACP meeting today, members will ask independent Councilman Chris Smitherman to step down from his leadership position. The disgruntled members told The Enquirer
that Smitherman, who is an opponent of the streetcar and often partners
up with the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST), is using the NAACP for his “personal and political
agenda,” not civil rights. Smitherman told The Enquirer to focus
on the legitimate work of the NAACP instead of a potential coup that he
says isn’t newsworthy. Smitherman will not allow media into today’s
City Council unanimously passed a resolution
yesterday to oppose anti-union laws that are misleadingly called “right
to work” laws. The laws earned their name after a decades-long spin campaign from big businesses that oppose unions, but the laws’ real purpose is weakening unions
by banning collective bargaining agreements that require workers to join
unions and pay dues. The City Council resolution has no legal weight;
it simply tells higher levels of government to not pass the anti-union law.
Metro’s budget would need to increase by two-thirds
to implements the bus and public transportation agency’s long-range plan, which would add rapid
transit lines, other routes and sheltered transit centers with more
Two Cincinnati economic entities are getting federal funds:
The Cincinnati Development Fund will get $35 million to invest in
brownfield redevelopment, nutritional access and educational
improvements, and Kroger Community Development Entity will get $20
million to increase low-income access to fresh and nutritional foods and
fund redevelopment projects.
As expected, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald officially announced yesterday that he will run for governor against Kasich in 2014.
Kasich appointed former State Rep. John Carey to head the Ohio Board of Regents,
which manages the state’s public university system. Carey says his
biggest goal will be to better align higher education opportunities with
jobs that are available in Ohio.
Sen. Sherrod Brown is unveiling a bill that would effectively break up the big banks by imposing strict capital limits and other rules. CityBeat wrote about Brown’s efforts here.
In a blog post
yesterday, Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, criticized
President Barack Obama for not calling the Boston bombers “Islamic
jihadists.” Public officials typically do not publicly jump to
conclusions in the middle of an ongoing investigation.
A new app gives you an automatic nose job.
Researchers are developing a solar dish that produces electricity and fresh water at the same time.
5 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Step one: Create problems for
Cincinnati’s streetcar project. Step two: Blame the problems on the
streetcar project. Step three: Political profit.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An April 16 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7
million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar
by German Lopez
33 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:17 AM | Permalink
Ohio courts hurt poor, Qualls calls for streetcar hearing, House to vote on budget today
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) found Ohio's poor are regularly victimized by illegal practices in courts that jail the state's poor for failing to pay fines they can't afford. The problem particularly afflicts the state's rural counties, which sometimes openly admit to jailing people even when they can't afford to pay fines. The ACLU says courts need to be more transparent in communicating defendants' rights, provide retroactive credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty and consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and willfulness to pay fines.The streetcar is being threatened by a $22.7 million budget gap, and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who is running for mayor and has long supported the streetcar, is calling a meeting to get all the details on how the project got here and whether it's still economically viable. Qualls says it's too soon to jump to conclusions about the project's fate, and she says she would like to see the options and details laid out by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. at the hearing. But Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, is already using the news to call for the project's demise. The streetcar is one of few issues dividing the Democratic candidates in the mayoral race, which the latest poll has Qualls leading by 14 points.The Ohio House is expected to vote on a budget
today that would defund Planned Parenthood, ban comprehensive sex
education and fund crisis pregnancy centers that promote
abstinence-only, anti-abortion education. This week, the budget has been
regularly mocked by Democrats for potentially opening teachers to lawsuits if
they explain condoms, other forms of birth control and other basic sex facts to students in a
way that could lead to "gateway sexual activity."The Ohio House budget bill also fails to expand Medicaid — a failing that Moody's is warning could put hospitals at risk for budgetary shortfalls. The report points out that hospitals were supposed to get more patients through a Medicaid expansion, which would be funded almost entirely by the federal government through Obamacare, to make up for a reduction of federal reimbursements for uncompensated care. The Medicaid expansion would have insured 456,000 Ohioans and saved the state money, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.For student voters, the Ohio House budget bill would also make it more difficult to vote by forcing public universities to withhold essential documents that can be used as voter identification. The rule would make it so universities have to declare students in-state for tuition purposes when issuing them a letter or utility bill to vote, effectively costing universities extra revenue from out-of-state students if they choose to issue the documents. Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde says the move will likely make it so universities never hand over the documents.This week's CityBeat commentary: "Bad Budget Ideas Confound Public Discourse."As the city wrestles with laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig is considering a potential job offer in Detroit "very carefully." Craig interviewed for the top cop position in Detroit last week. "I'm humbled they would consider me a top candidate," Craig told The Cincinnati Enquirer.A new poll found Republican Gov. John Kasich in "reasonably good shape" for re-election, beating potential challenger Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald 46-37.Disbarred attorney Stan Chesley resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to by fellow board members.Metro announced new direct, crosstown routes yesterday. The routes will make it easier to travel from the east to west side and vice versa.The Business Courier has a look at the top 10 worst-paying Cincinnati jobs.Five to 15 were killed and more than 150 were injured in a Texas fertilizer plant explosion yesterday.Even though a majority of 54 voted in favor and only 46 voted against it, the background checks bill for gun buyers failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, failing to overcome what was essentially a filibuster. Ohio's senators were split on the issue, with Sen. Rob Portman voting against the bill and Sen. Sherrod Brown voting in favor. Universal background checks are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans, according to a poll from The New York Times and CBS.Scientists have found magnetic brain stimulation could remove cravings for cigarettes.
by German Lopez
33 days ago
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls calls for public hearing to discuss project
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is
threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo,
the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4
million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new
funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26
million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working
with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific
proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and
private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long
supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting
will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if
the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to
conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a
serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need
to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon
fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to
this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what
costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but
also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both
for the public.”But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime
opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement
today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people
of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms.
Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for
the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring
the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of
legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking
assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help
balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city,
including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the
streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are
challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council
regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However,
even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far
outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study
after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these
same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the
proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have
changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must
continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects
that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”