Morning News: City budget moves along; Trump's campaign crumbling?

Council members Kevin Flynn and Chris Seelbach both had complaints about the way in which some of their budget proposals were handled by city administration.

Jun 21, 2016 at 11:11 am

Hello all. Let’s get fiscal with the news today.

Cincinnati City Council needs to approve the city’s fiscal year 2017 budget in the coming days, and with the clock ticking down, it looked as though major tiffs would be avoided this year. But alas, just like living with a bunch of roommates who are dating each other or don’t do their dishes, drama is unavoidable in city government. City Manager Harry Black handed down budget recommendations that cut funding to human services and some other important city functions — a sore spot in last year’s budget process — but Mayor John Cranley restored them in his recommendations, as well as proposing some $34 million in projects throughout the city. Council has passed all of that through committee as of yesterday. So far, so good.

But the process by which the budget has come together was a focus of Council’s ire in its Budget and Finance Committee meeting yesterday.

• One point of contention: those projects proposed by Cranley. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson proposed a resolution that asks city administration to review each of the mayor’s proposed projects and to engage the community councils in each neighborhood around them. Simpson said that two projects in particular in West Price Hill, Bond Hill and Roselawn have lacked necessary outreach to the community, according to community councils there.

“I’m fully supportive of any funding that goes to the neighborhoods,” Simpson said. “I think it’s important, and I’m glad we’re doing it. My concern is that there are some projects where the community has been left out, doesn’t know what the project is, and there’s nothing in the ordinances that requires a full vetting by the administration or the community councils to have a say about what goes on in their neighborhoods.”

• That wasn’t the only dramatic moment in the meeting. Council members Kevin Flynn and Chris Seelbach both had complaints about the way in which some of their budget proposals were handled by city administration. Flynn for many months has been working on a rerouting of certain funds used to pay for Cincinnati’s streetcar and has gone so far as to recently threaten a lawsuit against Cranley. The Cincinnati Business Courier has a good rundown of that fight here, but here’s the long and short of it: Cranley, until very recently, did not refer Flynn’s motion around the funding switch to committee, effectively utilizing a so-called “pocket veto” on the item. The controversial quasi-power afforded to the mayor by a quirk of wording in the city’s charter was also a sore spot in the budget process last year. After threatening the lawsuit, Flynn’s legislation made it onto a committee agenda. Cranley says that’s a coincidence.

• Seelbach experienced his own difficulties with his budget proposals. While other council members found any proposal they were able to get five signatures on rounded up into one omnibus spending resolution, Seelbach’s were broken out separately, even though they had majority support. That caused some logistical headaches when it came time to pass them. It also royally steamed Seelbach, as you might imagine, who demanded to know why his budget requests, including restoring $90,000 in funding to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s Future Blooms program and $70,000 for maintenance to the city’s stairsets, were separated. That led to some awkward moments between Council and city administration, which said the city’s legal department drew up the omnibus spending bill and that information about who in city government requested that Seelbach’s proposals be separated was a matter of attorney-client privilege and couldn’t be revealed.

“Everyone who submitted budget items had their motions with more than five signatures combined,” Seelbach said. “My items are separated one by one. Who decided to treat me differently?”

• After the dust cleared, Council moved forward many of the budget items proposed by Cranley, including:

–  $2 million to preserve affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine and another $2 million for affordable and mixed-income housing around the city;

–   More than $500,000 to bring human services funding back up to last year’s levels;

–   $450,000 to buy the site of a controversial Alaska Commons proposed affordable housing project in Avondale;

–  $12 million to purchase right-of-way for the proposed Wasson Way bike trail;

–   Millions in other neighborhood specific projects, including $2 million for a new recreation center in Oakley and $4 million to revamp Westwood Town Hall.

Other items, including those pushed by Seelbach, are still in question and will need to be hammered out today and tomorrow. Council could vote on the full budget package Wednesday.

• Since this is morning news, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some non-City Hall related info. A bunch of stuff happened around GOP presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump yesterday. Let me be your guide to that evolving shit show.

– Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski yesterday. Lewandowski has been accused of assaulting a reporter, sexual harassment and other controversial behavior during his time on the campaign, but it might have been his feud with other Trump insiders and the campaign’s sliding poll numbers that did him in.

– Campaign finance numbers up to June were also released yesterday for both Trump and his presumptive Democrat general election opponent Hillary Clinton. They’re not good news for the Trump camp. The Donald trails Clinton in fundraising by a huge margin. His campaign has just $1.3 million on hand, compared to Clinton’s $40 million war chest. Clinton has been busy buying air time for TV ads and assembling some 700 staffers around the country. Trump has purchased no airtime and has just 70 staff members at this point. Outside groups on the Democratic side are also heavily outspending their Republican counterparts at this point. The gap between Clinton and Trump is unprecedented in modern national political campaigns.

– The campaign finance filings reveal another interesting and highly unusual stat: More than 10 percent of Trump’s campaign expenditures have been paid to companies owned by Trump or his family members. In essence, Trump is recycling his own loans to his campaign, as well as the campaign contributions of donors, back into his businesses. So very Trumpian.

• Despite all this, Trump and Clinton are neck and neck in Ohio, a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows. Trump and Clinton are both pulling around 40 percent of the vote, according to poll respondents. Clinton is in Columbus today campaigning for more of that vote.

That’s it for me. See you tomorrow.