Election Day is just a few weeks off, so it's time to start making up your mind. As always, CityBeat is here to help.
We begin three weeks of election endorsements right now and will offer more in the following issues, culminating Oct. 31 with our picks for Cincinnati City Council. That issue will also feature our handy dandy "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts, the one and only place you'll find every endorsement in every race.
We'll also recap the CityBeat endorsements in the Oct. 31 issue, providing a truly incisive and useful guide to the candidates and issues you should be supporting when you go to vote on Nov. 6.
As you gather information in order to make informed decisions, don't forget to check out CityBeat's election coverage so far in this special section on the web. And look for more coverage in the coming weeks.
Kentucky Governor: Steve Beshear
Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher is a pretty lonely guy these days. Polls show overwhelming rejection of his main re-election campaign issue, keeping casino gambling out of the state. As many as 80 percent of Kentuckians want to vote directly on a casino gambling referendum, a position Democratic challenger Steve Beshear favors.
Fletcher recently started hammering on a possible ethics violation that Beshear might have committed 12 years ago while in private law practice, but it doesn't seem to be getting much traction. Voters appear to be more interested in Fletcher's own ethics violation just a few years ago.
Fletcher and others in his administration were issued a total of 14 indictments by a county grand jury for abusing the state's merit system of employment, which protects most state workers from being fired, demoted or transferred for political reasons — which is what Fletcher's people were accused of doing.
Fletcher eventually pardoned all of the accused in his administration except himself, then invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in his case. No one was convicted or did jail time, but the governor officially took responsibility for the employment scandal in a settlement deal.
Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, not accused in the scandal, severed ties with Fletcher and backed his opponent in the Republican gubernatorial primary in May. So did U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning and a lot of the state's prominent Republicans.
Fletcher chose the only original cabinet secretary still serving in his administration, Robbie Rudolph, as his running mate. Amazingly, he won the primary.
Beshear won the competitive Democratic primary even though he hadn't held statewide office in 20 years. After serving in the Kentucky House of Representatives, he was state attorney general from 1979 to 1983 and lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1987.
He lost in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1987 and has run for office just once since, losing to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 1996. In the meantime, he's been a partner at a Lexington law firm, quitting to make this run for governor.
Polls indicate the top issues among Kentucky voters are job creation, casino gambling, health care and education, and Beshear has solid plans in hand to address three of them. On gambling, he thinks casinos could generate $500 million a year for the state, money that could help fund his plans for the other three areas — but he'd like for voters to have a crack at making the final decision on casinos.
Kentucky voters seem to feel the same way. And they've seen enough of Fletcher.
Issue 28: Hamilton County Mental Health Services Levy Renewal/Increase: Yes
This five-year levy renews the existing 2.74 mills and adds 0.25 mill for a total of 2.99 mills tax for every $1 valuation of your property. The owner of a $100,000 house will pay $43.86 per year for this tax, an increase of 20 percent over the current $36.46.
The tax will raise an estimated $37.4 million per year to fund the county's alcohol, drug addiction and mental health programs, including operation and maintainence of various treatment facilities. The funds are administered by the county's Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, a new organization formed from the merger of the Community Mental Health Board and the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board. County commissioners merged those two boards in 2006, reducing duplicate administrative costs by more than $600,000.
The tax supplies about 40 percent of the board's budget, with the rest coming from federal and state sources. In 2006, more than 40,000 adults and children received mental health services through more than 40 contracted agencies such as Beech Acres and Talbert House. Adults receive 58 percent of the board's funding, with 42 percent going to children.
Tragically, the board has seen an 18 percent increase in mental health services for children since the last levy renewal in 2002 (plus an almost 5 percent increase for adults).
Even though Hamilton County's population continues to drop, clearly we're faced with increasing demand for these services, which doesn't bode well for the future. It's the typical urban trap we see with essential community services (public schools, jail construction, etc.): As people with means move to outlying areas and those without means or choices stay behind, more tax burden is placed on fewer shoulders — adding to the pressure already on those taxpayers to follow the exodus.
Still, we don't have much choice here. This tax levy provides a huge chunk of operating funds for these critical local services, and the local funding helps leverage and attract the other funding. And the county has done a good job streamlining administrative expenses.
Communities around the country, from New York City on down, have tried pitching their mentally ill out on the street in order to save a few dollars, and the results are always disastrous. You can complain about a lot of things in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, but this community tries to take care of the most vulnerable among us.
Issue 29: Hamilton County Senior Citizens Services Levy Renewal/ Increase: Yes
This five-year levy renews the existing 1.16 mills and adds 0.13 mill for a total of 1.29 mills tax for every $1 valuation of your property. The owner of a $100,000 house will pay $26.51 per year for this tax, an increase of 17 percent over the current $22.66.
The tax will raise an estimated $20.7 million per year to fund the county's system of home care for senior citizens. The funds are administered by the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, which runs the Elderly Services Program for the county.
The tax funds programs for about 8,000 seniors per year through 96 contracted agencies and organizations. The focus is on allowing seniors to continue living at home with as much independence as possible, with services ranging from personal care in the home, home-delivered meals and transportation to durable medical equipment and house repair.
Obviously people are living longer, and the Baby Boomer generation is just now reaching retirement age. More than 13 percent of the county's population is older than 65, the eligibility age for participation in the Elderly Services Program; another 21 percent of county residents are between 45 and 64.
As Margo Pierce explained in her news story "Supporting Elders" (issue of Oct. 3), this program provides individualized care programs for seniors in their homes for an average of $335 per person per month. Compare that to a Medicaid-funded nursing home at an average of $4,883 a month or an assisted living arrangement at an average of $2,700 a month.
We'd all like to think we'll be able to provide these services to parents and other loved ones when the need arises, though where that money will come from remains a little sketchy. As with the Mental Health Services Levy, there's a portion of the county's population that doesn't have the means to make any plans of that sort — and clearly the funds raised and spent on these senior services are well-managed.
The tax levy deserves to be renewed and expanded.
Next week: CityBeat endorsements on Issue 22 (Cincinnati Public School Tax Levy), Issue 27 (Hamilton County Sales Tax) and Cincinnati Board of Education.
Issue of Oct. 31: CityBeat endorsements for Cincinnati City Council, plus the world-famous "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts summarizing media, union, advocacy group and political party endorsements in all the races.