Local GOP All Talk, No Action

Hamilton County's newest Republican Party chairman must think voters have short memories or don't understand county government. Or both. On his blog last week, GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou dusted

Hamilton County's newest Republican Party chairman must think voters have short memories or don't understand county government. Or both.

On his blog last week, GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou dusted off tired old clich's to warn his fellow true believers that the Democrat-controlled Hamilton County Board of Commissioners was going to raise taxes sometime soon.

The cryptic, four-sentence blog entry offered no evidence. Instead, it merely stated, "County taxpayers better hold onto their wallets. There are two Democrats as county commissioners. We know how the Democrats love to raise your taxes. Wait and see."

It's true that Hamilton County is facing a $24.4 million shortfall in 2009, leaving commissioners with stark choices in coming months: Cut spending, raise taxes or use some combination of both. But Democratic commissioners David Pepper and Todd Portune — not to mention their sole Republican colleague, Pat DeWine — have said they have no intention of raising taxes, thus making cuts inevitable.

Hamilton County's newest Republican Party chairman must think voters have short memories or don't understand county government. Or both.

On his blog last week, GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou dusted off tired old clich's to warn his fellow true believers that the Democrat-controlled Hamilton County Board of Commissioners was going to raise taxes sometime soon.

The cryptic, four-sentence blog entry offered no evidence. Instead, it merely stated, "County taxpayers better hold onto their wallets. ... There are two Democrats as county commissioners. We know how the Democrats love to raise your taxes. Wait and see."

It's true that Hamilton County is facing a $24.4 million shortfall in 2009, leaving commissioners with stark choices in coming months: Cut spending, raise taxes or use some combination of both. But Democratic commissioners David Pepper and Todd Portune — not to mention their sole Republican colleague, Pat DeWine — have said they have no intention of raising taxes, thus making cuts inevitable.

When it comes to taxes, it was Republicans — not Democrats — who pushed two of the last three sales tax increases proposed by elected officials in Hamilton County. The first, in 1996, was approved by voters and raised money to build new Reds and Bengals stadiums. An increase proposed in 2006 by Republican Phil Heimlich to build a new jail was defeated, as was a follow-up jail plan a year later. That one, while put forward by Pepper and Portune, was done at the urging of Sheriff Simon Leis, a longtime GOP heavyweight.

The local Republican Party endorsed all three tax proposals.

Let's remind ourselves of some other basic facts.

Until Portune was elected to his first term in 2000, not a single Democrat had served on the county commission since 1964. And until Pepper joined Portune by winning his first term in 2006, Democrats hadn't controlled the commission since a brief four-year period, from 1958 to 1962. For decades before and after, it's been strictly GOP.

In fact, no Democrat has been elected treasurer, recorder or engineer since 1936. A Republican has been prosecutor since 1932. Not counting Pepper and Portune, just four Democrats have been elected to county office in the past 35 years.

What's the Republican stranglehold on county offices given the public? Hamilton County has the second-highest property tax rate among Ohio's 88 counties.

Commissioners have few options when making cuts.

Of the county's $271.5 million general budget, commissioners directly control just more than $70 million. Offices run by independently elected Republican officials control the vast majority, nearly 74 percent. These include the sheriff ($75 million), judges ($70 million), the clerk of courts ($15 million), the prosecutor ($13 million), the recorder ($2.3 million) and the treasurer ($1.3 million).

Commissioners only have the powers explicitly given to them under state law. Unless those other county officials agree to cuts, they can sue the commissioners and get the money restored.

Hamilton County's budget crisis is caused by decades of bad policies that were shaped and pushed by Republicans. Now that tough choices are needed, Triantafilou is acting like a toddler caught by a parent standing over a broken cookie jar, pleading, "I didn't do it."

Given the chairman's dislike for new taxes, we expect a list of proposed cuts from the GOP's elected officials to flood the commissioners' mailboxes starting any day now.


Porkopolis TIP LINES: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or [email protected]

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