Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Freedom Center seeks $3.1 million in additional tax money

Only your swift action can stop them

Later this month, the Ohio Senate will be voting on yet another $3.1 million in tax subsidy for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Your swift action in contacting your Senator will help stop this inexcusable waste of money. Read more here.

Water Works Deal:

Biggest scam ever or necessary progress?

People that COAST respects have encouraged us to re-think our opposition to the plan to turn the Cincinnati Water Works over to a regional governmental body, controlled by the City. Widely respected corporate executive and attorney Lynn Marmer chaired a panel that drew the plan. Dave Rager, who currently heads the Water Works and is a champion of the plan, is well respected for providing high-quality water at competitive rates. Here, COAST tries to present a more detailed review of the issues presented by the proposal to make the system regional. You may read for yourself the Executive Summary of the report here and the entire Report here.

Major issues presented by proposal:
  1. Why would we change now? Currently the Water Works provides some of the best-quality water in the Nation for bargain rates. Why would we change anything? This is an excellent question. Proponents claim that the loss of manufacturing businesses in the region, which use large quantities of water, and the loss of residents, means less utilization and resulting increase in expense for the remaining customers. Because of statutory limitations on geographic growth and uncompetitive City purchasing rules, over time it will not be possible to maintain our quality and competitive rate structure. So, the current good thing may not last and we must change to become competitive. Here, proponents make an excellent point.

  2. Why would we pay $475 million for something we already own? The primary objection COAST has to the Water Works proposal is it calls for City Council to sell the plants, pumps, pipes and other capital assets for $475 to the new entity. This is a $475 million windfall for the City of Cincinnati. The new entity will then include the capital payback in its new rate structure. Proponents point out, however, that the ratepayers of the new, expanded system will be a larger group than City ratepayers, or even current ratepayers. Why should the new ratepayers benefit from this asset currently owned by a smaller universe of ratepayers? The logic certainly is fair, but as COAST sees things current ratepayers bought the system once; they should not have to pay for the same asset twice.

  3. What about Proponents’ claims rates will still be lower? Because of savings to be had from the efficiencies noted in paragraph 1, above, proponents claim rates will still be lower than they otherwise would be even with the $475 million buy-out of the capital assets. Yes, but COAST is skeptical. The capital pay down will cost close to 15% of current rates. That’s a lot of savings to be attained just to keep rates constant. Moreover, the plan is do-able with zero paid to the City if Council wanted, meaning rates could be even lower.

  4. Couldn’t that $475 million windfall be put to good uses? As with so much with government, only half the evil comes from higher taxes (rates). The other half comes from the mis-spending by politicians and bureaucrats. Right now, Council has indicated its support for a wasteful $200 trolley system that will run an annual operating deficit of $5 million – over the objections of a majority of City voters. If Council had $475 million in new dollars, would they spend them on important community priorities like safety, stabilizing the retirement fund, and economic development, or squander them on foolish projects that leave no legacy but debt and operating expenses? COAST posits that the proof is in the puddin’. When Council received $65 million in proceeds from the demutualization of Anthem, it squandered the monies on forgettable projects and now has nothing to show for the unprecedented flood of cash. If Council was forced through the governing documents of the new authority to spend the monies on certain limited uses, is the $475 million price redeemable? COAST is skeptical, but will see how the debate emerges.

  5. Why new taxing and eminent domain powers? The proposal calls for the new regional water authority to have the power to place tax levies on the ballot, and eminent domain authority. Councilmember Chris Monzel has declared he opposes the plan for these two reason alone. Moreover, as with the $475 million capital charge, these new powers are entirely optional. The plan can go forward without either. Eminent domain is a tough issue, as utilities need this power to fulfill its statutory duty to provide service to all customers, but why would a water authority need to tax when it can raise funds from water rates? COAST believes planners should eliminate the entirely unnecessary taxing powers.
Many of COAST’s WeDemandAVote.Com partners are adamantly opposed to the Water Works plan. These include the NAACP, Cincinnati Progressive Action, and the Green Party of Southwest Ohio. For example, Josh Krekler from the Green Party wrote this excellent analysis. COAST respects its WeDemand partners and values their opinions. If City Council wants COAST buy-in to the Water Works plan (and we appreciate the dialogue), it will need to substantively address the concerns above and include COAST’s WeDemand partners in the dialogue to make this plan workable.

May School Levies Crash and Burn

Voters in the region spoke loudly and clearly on election day, rejecting five of eight levies on the ballot. Read the rundown here. COAST thinks that is three too few.

More Tafties Try to Move Up

Taftie Jon Husted
Wants to be Secretary of State
(COAST hopes not)

Bob Taft is gone, but the legislators who faithfully supported his eight years of higher taxes and spending refuse to go away. COAST here highlighted Michelle Schneider’s campaign to move to the State Senate. Now, former Speaker Jon Husted has announced plans to ascend to the office of Ohio Secretary of State. COAST thinks his promotion is a bad idea.

COAST reported here and here how Jon Husted took campaign funds from John Pepper and then blocked a vote on an amendment to strip Pepper’s Freedom Center of $875,000 in new tax dollars. Husted’s competence in running elections, a core responsibility of the Secretary of State’s office, is seriously in question. First, Husted’s House passed electoral “reform” measures that allowed democrats to seize control of the election rules last fall, contributing to the 2008 democrat landslide. Further, Husted’s own residency is a major issue. Finally, Husted was a reliable vote for Taft and previous Speaker Larry Householder every time they asked for a tax increase.

Fortunately, COAST hero Sandy O’Brien is opposing Husted in the Republican primary for Secretary of State. Ohio Republicans will have a true competent and conservative choice for Secretary of State in 2010! O’Brien previously bested Taft appointee Jeanette Bradley in 2006.

A Mental Health Common Pleas Court

A money-saving idea?

With the resounding 2007 defeat of the Super-Sized Jail Tax, voices of innovation are finally being heard at the County Courthouse. Judge Skip West is one of those voices of progress. This year, because of Judge West, Hamilton County Common Pleas Court is seeking to implement a Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Court (SAMI) to develop innovative and effective solutions to those mentally ill or chemically dependant repeatedly clogging courts and jails. COAST is glad the defeat of the Super Sized Jail Tax is yielding creative problem solving. The SAMI will be funded from proceeds of the scaled back levy that used to fund the Drake Center. The major portion of that levy is going away due to COAST’s efforts.

Relying on Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT), this SAMI project is a collaborative partnership between the criminal justice system, the mental health system, consumers and their families concerning felony level offenders with mental illness and substance use disorders. Goals of this project include establishing pretrial screening, assessment, pre-adjudication diversion, close supervision of offenders, and engaging the community in addressing and building strong links to citizens, schools, and community groups with respect to felony offenders suffering from persistent mental illness and/or substance abuse. Hamilton County has three successful related programs including the misdemeanor mental health court project, the felony drug treatment court, and the Mentally Disabled Probation Specialized Unit (MDO) program.

Pretrial services working in conjunction with The Court Clinic, a State of Ohio certified Forensic Center, will help to identify and assess potential participants for the program. Once identified, assessed for eligibility, and transferred into the program, participants will be assigned to a case manager from Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services (GCBHS) who will perform a service assessment identifying the participant’s needs. Appropriate services will then be provided to the participant.

Driehaus STILL Refuses to Disclose Pork

Despite efforts of COAST and the Cincinnati Tea Party, Congressman Steve Driehaus still refuses to disclose the pork he inserted into the House budget bill. The arrogance of power, even among the newly-elected is astounding. We will remember.

Trolley Petition Formally Launches Thursday

The WeDemandAVote.Com coalition will formally launch the petition to stop the foolish $200 million trolley plan of City Council and Mayor Mallory on Thursday, May 21 at 1:30 PM in front of Ollie's Trolley at the northwest corner of Liberty and Central Avenue. Join WeDemand partners NAACP, COAST, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Blue Chip Young Republicans for this important event.

Ollie's Trolley, is a vintage streetcar seeing new life as a neighborhood eatery. They serve soul food and world-famous Ollie-burgers, and have been very favorably reviewed by Cincinnati's Wine Me, Dine Me.

Ollie's is the only trolley we need downtown.

Buckeye Institute Blasts House Budget Bill

While eyes are on unprecedented levels of spending in Washington, perhaps you missed the democrat spending orgy in Columbus. David Hansen of the Buckeye Institute briefs us here. Thanks Buckeye! It saved us the work.

Republicans Enlist Wenstrup for Mayor

Mayoral candidate and veteran
Dr. Brad Wenstrup

The Hamilton County Republican Party has enlisted Cincinnati physician Brad Wenstrup as its mayoral candidate. COAST has met Wenstrup and is impressed with his intelligence, commitment to public service and principled approach to the campaign and the job. Wenstrup has already come out against the foolish $200 million Trolley proposal from City Council and Mayor Mallory. Good work Chairman Triantafilou!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ghiz Sees the Light of Oncoming Train Wreck

Today Councilmember Leslie Ghiz renounced her prior support of Cincinnati's streetcar proposal. City Council got the news yesterday of an $11 million tax shortfall this year and a deficit of up to $40 million next year. "My support for this project came at a much different economic time," Ghiz said, "I'd love to continue this support but in good conscience cannot considering our financial predicament."

Keep in mind we're also $1.2 billion behind in our pension fund, we're facing $2-3 billion in sewer projects to comply with a federal court order, revenues are down, and Mayor Mallory raided the emergency fund in the last budget cycle to cover basic operating expenses.

Council's authorization was contingent on private donations of $32 million. So far less than $3,000 has been raised. To close the gap, the Mayor has proposed selling our street lights, airport, and water works (i.e. essential city assets). Last year he proposed to sell the traffic lights and tax trash collection for the 1st time ever, but citizen outrage shut him down.

There's no point spending $185 million on a luxury when we can't meet our obligations for necessities.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

COAST Salutes Walton, KY

It's not often that government gets something right. But when they do, we owe them a hearty "Thank you." Our thanks today go out to greater Cincinnati's own Walton, Kentucky, for being a model of fiscal conservatism.

Even though they project their tax rolls will increase by over $20 million this year due to the Walton Towne Center, they're spending less than they did last year and boosting their surplus, according to this Enquirer story.

"In the city of Walton, our budget is based on last year's forecast: what we actually got in," Mayor Trzop said. "We can forecast (future revenues), but we don't spend them. The budget is built for what we actually got last year, and then we let the future take care of itself."

While some cities are spending their reserves and lowering services for their citizens, Walton is giving its employees a 2.5% raise without any increase in taxes. And they continue to not levy payroll or occupational license taxes on businesses.

That's our kind of town!