Time for GOP to Ante Up

Jul 20, 2008 at 2:06 pm

BY Kevin Osborne | Posted 07/20/2008

Hamilton County GOP Chair Alex Triantafilou

Unlike the federal government, cities and counties have to balance their books each year and can't have a deficit. Everyone who runs a household understands the concept, but many politicians don't want to grasp it because it forces them into difficult decisions.

Surprisingly, the worst local offender — until recently — was the Hamilton County Republican Party and its elected officials, who consider themselves the bastion of fiscal conservatism.

After county commissioners announced that Hamilton County faced a $6.9 million budget shortfall this year due to sluggish tax revenues and inflation, they asked each department to submit a list of proposed cuts that would reduce their spending by 6 percent.

Cue the political grandstanding. The worst offenders were Sheriff Simon Leis and local Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, both GOP heavy-hitters.

Triantafilou singled out the two Democratic county commissioners — David Pepper and Todd Portune — and urged them to cut "unnecessary, discretionary spending" from the budget.

He wrote on his blog, "The pet programs that Democrats love so much must be subject to the same budget cuts our elected leaders are expected to make. Cutting wasteful government spending is not something Democrats do well. They've tried to raise our taxes with no support from the taxpayers."

If Triantafilou is referring to the last two sales tax proposals that voters rejected, in 2006 and 2007, both were pushed by Leis and endorsed by the Republican Party. And as the chairman knows, commissioners directly control only $70 million of the county's $271.5 million general fund. Most is controlled by GOP office-holders.

Triantafilou also scolds the county administration for being over budget by $1.08 million. That's accurate, but those costs are due to reclassifying prior year expenses, not new spending — expenses tied to efforts to build a new jail.

Those include consultant studies and other work approved by a Republican-controlled county commission in 2006 as well as costs for the former Kahn's factory where the jail was planned. One of the biggest budget drains was a deal to temporarily house prisoners in Butler County, a deal hatched by Republicans who assumed those expenses could be repaid using proceeds from the jail tax and foolishly didn't have a contingency plan in case the vote failed.

It should be noted that the Sheriff's Office has the largest estimated deficit this year and is being asked to find $2.2 million in cuts. Leis recently appeared on Bill Cunningham's radio talk show, blaming his woes on the jail tax defeats and the Butler County deal.

Under the deal, Hamilton County spent $9.9 million for jail cells in Butler County, paying for 300 cells a night whether or not they were used.

While Leis bellyaches about cuts and threatens to pull guards from the courthouse, records show he's rehired eight of the 17 staffers he laid off after the November ballot defeat. Further, Leis continues to fund dubious items like a Marine Unit to patrol the Ohio River.

Thankfully, not all officials are so shortsighted. Norbert Nadel, the Republican who presides over the Common Pleas Court, vowed to work with commissioners to find the cuts. One option, he said, was to ask some workers to accept voluntary leaves without pay.

More of Nadel's GOP colleagues should follow his example and ditch the partisan rhetoric.

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