Morning News: Portune pitches fix for Metro woes; Cincinnati adds jobs, housing; federal judge blocks Trump sanctuary cities order

Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune says he has ideas to bridge Metro's looming $3 million deficit next year and $170 million shortfall over the next decade.

click to enlarge Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune

Hello Cincy. Let’s get right to the news this morning, shall we?

Is a fix for on the way for Metro’s woes? Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune says he may have both short-term and long-term solutions to bridge a looming $3 million deficit next year and a $170 million shortfall over the next decade. Portune yesterday at a meeting of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority Board proposed applying extra funds from other Hamilton County levies, possibly including surplus funds from the county’s Developmental Disabilities levy, the Family Services and Treatment levy and others. Long term, Portune floated a much bigger plan: create an eight-county, three-state regional bus system, spreading the cost of bus service out over all the involved counties. Portune says he has started that conversation with key officials. It’s unclear where his fellow county commissioners Denise Driehaus and Chris Monzel stand on the idea at this point.

• Cincinnati added 2,347 new jobs in 2016, according to a report released today by the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development. The city also saw $447 million in investment throughout the year, as well as the creation of 816 housing units, the report says. You can read more and dig into the DCED’s numbers here.

• How can Cincinnati become a “smart city” that uses data and technology to better the lives of its residents? That’s the question that city officials, tech entrepreneurs and business leaders sought to answer at the Smart Cincy Summit yesterday in Over-the-Rhine. City Manager Harry Black, council members Yvette Simpson and P.G. Sittenfeld, Mayor John Cranley and other city officials, along with business leaders like organizer Zack Huhn, spoke about everything from closing the city’s digital divide and providing internet access to all the city’s residents to technology that would alert drivers and city maintenance crews about potholes in city streets. The summit is just the first in a series of conversations on those subjects, officials say.

• Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have suspended Barbara Temeck, Cincinnati VA Medical Center deputy chief of staff, after allegations that she illegally wrote prescriptions to a private patient. Temeck is at the center of controversy around the VA Center’s relationship with UC Health, and says she’s being pushed out of the VA because she has pushed back against alleged improper staffing practices, unnecessary treatment of veterans at UC Health and other problems between the two. Officials say the next likely step is firing Temeck for prescribing drugs to a former VA nurse.

• Cincinnati Public Schools could see an extra $5 million from the state next year under a budget proposal by Republicans in the State House, but other local schools could lose money. Under the proposal, schools where enrollment has fallen more than 5 percent in the past five years would see budget cuts, while other schools with more students coming would see more. Ohio’s overall student population has fallen about 3 percent in the last half-decade. Lawmakers adjusted the formula in the bill to keep as many schools as possible from losing money, they say, but slow economic growth in the state — and lagging tax receipts in part due to tax reforms instituted by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and GOP state lawmakers — have left less money than anticipated for the upcoming state budget.

• Staying on education and the state budget, lawmakers yesterday threw out a controversial proposal by Kasich that would have forced public school teachers to complete 40 hours of “externships” with local businesses every year to stay accredited. Kasich wanted the job-shadowing measure, he said, so teachers could better understand the job markets their students were entering into. But the provision, tucked into Kasich’s budget proposal, was unpopular with state lawmakers from both parties. Business leaders who sit on Kasich’s workforce board cooked up the idea. Also axed from the budget: another proposal that would have required each school board in the state have three business leaders as advisors who would recommend curriculum changes.

• Finally, let’s talk about two national stories really quick that have local impact. First, a federal judge yesterday blocked a Jan. 25 executive order by President Donald Trump that would have withheld federal funds from municipalities that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities.” That’s significant here in Cincinnati because Mayor John Cranley declared the city a sanctuary city that month, though his declaration didn’t change city policy. The Trump administration slammed the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick III, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. His ruling, which the Trump administration can appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, comes in response to a lawsuit by the city of San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County, Calif.

• Another big move by the Trump administration could also have local implications. Trump is set today to release his proposals for tax reform, and officials within the White House confirm that among those proposals are steep cuts to the corporate tax rate down to 15 percent. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that the cut would be "the biggest tax cut and largest tax reform in the history of our country." That tax cut proposals has had some unintended consequences — including greatly devaluing federal tax credits that fuel most affordable housing construction in Cincinnati and across the country. Trump says the tax cuts will spur job creation, but similar cuts at the state level in places like Kansas and here in Ohio have failed to spur growth in ways lawmakers had hoped.

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