Morning News and Stuff

Luken likely to head Port Authority board; property tax debate continues; Obama delivers his final SOTU speech

Hey hey all. Here’s what’s happening in Cincinnati and elsewhere today.

It’ll be a busy couple days at City Hall. Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee has a special meeting scheduled at noon to discuss the city’s tax budget, which has been a point of contention between some members of Council and Mayor John Cranley. Last week, Cranley vetoed the tax budget Council passed because of the millage rate on property taxes Council approved. Cranley called the proposed 5.6-mill rate a “tax hike.” Even though the millage rate is the same as last year’s, it is projected to bring in more tax dollars for the city. That violates an ordinance the city has had in effect since the late 1990s that keeps the property tax collections at $28.9 million a year. You can read all about that argument here. Cranley has also called special Council sessions for Thursday and Friday to discuss the issue.

• Council today will also vote on a proposed Over-the-Rhine parking plan that would allow the city to issue residential permits for parking in the neighborhood. That subject, which would set aside metered spots, residential spots and spots for workers, has also been contentious. You can read the details and the history of the plan here.

• Former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken could soon take the reins of the city’s economic development agency. Luken has been tapped as the new head of the 10-member joint city/county board that runs the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Agency. That board is expected to vote today on his appointment, which it looks likely to approve. Luken is a close ally, even a mentor, to Mayor John Cranley, and his appointment could make relations much cozier between the agency and city administration. When he was mayor, Luken was instrumental in starting the Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation, which has spent more than $1 billion redeveloping Over-the-Rhine and downtown since it was founded in 2003.

• A tragic Cincinnati shooting is making national headlines today. Yesterday morning, a father in Price Hill mistakenly shot his son in the family’s basement. The son had returned home from waiting for the bus, and his father, thinking he was at school, thought an intruder was in the home. He then panicked and shot the 14-year-old in the neck. The son later died at Children’s Hospital. Cincinnati Police say the father is cooperating with their investigation. No charges have been filed at this point.

• So we all know that Saturday’s Bengals loss was painful, that certain behavior by a small percentage of fans and, yes, players as well, was somewhat embarrassing and that we’d love to put the whole thing behind us. But… will the rest of the country forget? Or has Cincinnati again embarrassed itself on the national stage? Have we added to the bad sports-related impressions and memories people have of Cincinnati, including Crosstown Shootout brawls, Marge Schott, the errant gambling of Pete Rose and on and on? Thankfully, most experts say no. They argue that goodwill generated by Cincinnati’s sterling MLB All-Star Game turn, as well as a general hype around the city’s energy and upswing outweigh any momentary negative associations a few rowdy fans or players may have caused. Let’s hope.

• Plaintiffs suing the Internal Revenue Service over delays in granting conservative groups nonprofit status can now file a class-action lawsuit together. The alleged delays came out of the IRS’ office in downtown Cincinnati, which handles nonprofit tax documents. Tea party groups from across the country allege that the tax agency was deliberately targeting them when it stalled on granting them tax-exempt status. IRS officials and the Obama administration say that the delay was caused by questions around rules prohibiting political groups from getting tax exemption. They point to liberal groups that also received extra scrutiny. In October, investigators announced that no criminal charges would be filed against IRS workers or officials in the case. The recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott allowing class action status pertains to a separate civil suit filed three years ago by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots.

• Mystery solved. Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, a tea party favorite from Ohio, is the person who gave a ticket to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to controversial Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. Speculation had been floating around about who gave Davis the invite during the days leading up to yesterday’s big annual speech. Davis is best known as the Rowan County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which extended same-sex marriage rights to couples across the country. Davis spent a brief time in jail for her refusal to follow a court order to resume issuing the licenses. She attended the speech to serve as a "visible reminder of religious liberty," according to a spokesperson.

In that speech, his final as president, Obama extolled the virtues of progress, tweaking somewhat those who have stood in the way of same-sex marriage rights, rights for immigrants and refugees, efforts to raise the minimum wage and fight climate change, among other agendas Obama has tried to advance during his time in office. But the tone of the speech was decidedly non-combative and seemed most aimed at setting the stage for the president’s legacy and future efforts by the Democratic Party.

Obama structured the talk around four points: Increasing economic opportunity, harnessing technology, defining America’s role in the world as it relates to security and moving on from the divisiveness of contemporary American politics toward something more positive. As you might expect, Obama touted the country’s economic recovery, calling America “the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” Conservatives have, of course, taken issue with that, given that economics will likely play a large role in the coming presidential election. They point out low workforce participation rates and the number of people on government assistance where Obama cites new job creation.

Obama also cited policy victories in terms of health care and education, basically going down the list of his policy actions during his time in office and outlining optimistic if vague ways they could be expanded over the coming years.

Though the future was the explicit theme of the speech, it was hard not to hear it as a summation of Obama’s time in office and, by extension, of the tumultuous times the Obama presidency has overseen. Surprising omissions to this zeitgeist-citing, however, were the president’s only passing nods to recent struggles with racial and justice system issues, which have dominated headlines and social media chatter for well over a year and a half now. Despite this and several other omissions, however, the president’s speech is as good a prelude to the coming year as you’re likely to find. As a kind of goodbye, it’s also the note — along with coming primary elections — that will start the 2016 elections in earnest. Hope you’re ready for that.

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