People who follow local politics were probably surprised recently to read Mayor Mark Mallory’s response to the news of a pending budget deficit next year.
When Cincinnati City Council received its monthly financial report in late May, members were informed that the city potentially faced a $40 million deficit in 2010 due to a drop in earnings tax collections. The news prompted some council members to contemplate possible layoffs at City Hall or cuts in services to citizens.
But when The Cincinnati Enquirer contacted Mallory, who was in Las Vegas attending a convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers, the mayor did his best impersonation of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman: What, me worry?
“Who knows what the number will actually be?” Mallory told The Enquirer. “The number is a projection. We get forecasts all the time.”
Responding to talk about layoffs, the mayor added, “It’s way premature to make those kinds of judgments. The sky’s not falling and people shouldn’t be predicting things.”
To balance the budget for the rest of this year, Mallory and council recently hatched a plan to have municipal employees take a six-day unpaid furlough or find the equivalent savings in their department budgets.
If you’re like me, you were shocked by Mallory’s nonchalant attitude about a $40 million deficit. Council takes most of July and August off for vacation as well as most of December. That leaves just three full months to handle the budget crisis. Maybe even less, because two of those months occur while the mayor and council will be busy campaigning just before November’s election.
Ahh, now that last factoid made me dig a little deeper. As it turns out, Mallory might be planning an October Surprise.
For those too young to remember the term, it refers to an action taken by a candidate during the weeks before voters go to the polls that’s so spectacular or far-reaching it likely could sway the election’s outcome.
The term was first used in October 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon was seeking reelection against Democrat George McGovern. Twelve days before the election, Nixon’s national security advisor announced that peace was near in the controversial Vietnam War. After Nixon won in a landslide, U.S. troops remained bogged down in Southeast Asia until 1975.
Ever since, last-minute surprises have remained a viable tactic in political campaigns.
Closer to home, reliable sources at City Hall and in the business sector tell CityBeat that negotiations are quietly underway to sell the Cincinnati Southern Railway. The 337mile railroad line is owned by the city and runs between Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tenn.; more than 50 train cars use the rail line on a typical day, carrying automobiles, grain, coal and other bulk commodities.
Completed in 1880, the rail line has proven to be a cash cow for city coffers. Now leased to a subsidiary of the Norfolk Southern Corp., the railroad generates a substantial sum in rent payments. Ever since a deal was renegotiated in 1987, Norfolk has paid the city at least $11 million annually in rent, an amount that increases based on a formula tied to the Gross National Product.
From 1987 to 2008, the city has received a total of $333.3 million from the railroad.
But sources say Mallory is using Stan Aronoff and his law firm, Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt, to broker a deal to sell the railroad outright to Norfolk Southern for one or two lump-sum payments totaling around $500million. If successful, that cash would go a long way toward solving Cincinnati’s budget woes, which include an under-funded pension account for city retirees.
If anyone can make the deal happen, it’s probably Aronoff, who spent 30 years in the Ohio Senate, including several as its president. During that time he made a wealth of high-powered business contacts, and plenty of people owe him favors.
Some staffers at City Hall, however, are privately saying it would be a bad deal. That’s because the railroad essentially acts as an annuity for the city, a source of income that can be relied upon whether the economy goes up or down. Moreover, critics believe the railroad actually is worth more but believe Mallory and City Council would accept less for the short-term benefit of filling budget holes for a few years.
Whether a deal can be struck before Election Day remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if Mallory calls a hastily scheduled press conference sometime this fall.
As Congress continues to dicker over health care reform, most Republicans and some Democrats still are trying to pressure President Obama into dropping a provision for the so-called “public option.”
That provision would create a governmentsponsored insurance plan to compete with private insurance providers. It would cover people who are rebuffed by private companies while also using its vast economies of scale to negotiate lower prices from physicians and drug companies, providing an incentive for private plans to do the same.
Politicians who receive cash from the pharmaceutical, insurance and medical industries are resisting the change, a system similar to ones used by every other industrialized democracy.
It’s clear those Congressional opponents aren’t listening to the public. A large majority of Americans (72 percent) support a governmentsponsored health care plan, according to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll. A majority also think the government would do a better job than the private sector at keeping down costs.
Without the public option, no meaningful reform can occur. Congress would, in effect, be putting a Band-Aid on a cancer patient. Obama needs to stand his ground on this one.
When it comes to debating policy issues, most people will tend to respect their oppo nents more if they at least use verifiable facts when making their arguments and not outlandish statements that are easily disproved.
Such is the case with Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou and his attacks on U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus (D- Westwood) over the recent “cap and trade” bill that seeks to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
On the local GOP blog last week, Triantafilou wrote, “Mr. Driehaus’ party-line voting history is a far departure from the independent voice of Steve Chabot. Mr. Driehaus has failed to put a CAP on frivolous spending and higher taxes in Washington so the voters should TRADE him for Steve Chabot in 2010.”
As several public policy groups have noted over the years, Chabot — Driehaus’ Republican predecessor in the 1st District seat — was one of President Bush’s most ardent supporters. A review of Chabot’s voting record reveals he sided with the president a whopping 92 percent of the time.
No matter whether you believe the threat of global warming has been overstated for political gain or if human activity is the driving force behind climate change, there are some facts that are simply inescapable. One is Chabot’s voting record.
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