Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pulling back the curtain on the Streetcar

Is the Cincinnati Streetcar in its dying throes? 

We think it may be, or the City is deciding to proceed with the project knowing that full funding funding is not possible.

Let COAST put a few pieces of the puzzle together for you:
  1. First, we know that there is a $50 million gap between the projected costs for the Streetcar and the identified funding.
  2. Second, we know that even Streetcar supporters say the 4-mile loop from the riverfront to Findlay Market is a poor use of taxpayer dollars, constantly holding out the vain hope that additional funding will be identified to take the line up the Vine Street hill to Corryville and beyond.
  3. Third, we know the project is stalled and significantly behind schedule on critical milestones.  More on this to come later.
  4. Fourth, thanks to Congressman Chabot, the pipe dream of further Federal funding for the Streetcar is now completely off the table.
  5. Fifth, major funding issues remain unresolved, including (a) the FAA's refusal to allow Blue Ash Airport proceeds to be spent on the project, (b) the likelihood that COASTers will be able to block PUCO approval of a City-only rate increase for the Streetcar, and (c) the continuing impasse with the Hamilton County Commission over moving MSD lines.
Knowing all of this, either this Mayor, this Manager and this Council are even crazier than we think (this is entirely possible) or they are really in the early stages of deciding to kill off the project in the most politically safe manner possible.

When they do kill it, they will have some 'splaining to do about the $25 million + they have pissed down a rathole on this rail dream of Mayor Mallory and a few dozen trollyites who can't seem to let it go.  We hope you are proud of yourselves.

Wendell Young lied -- and is an ass

In the same Council questionnaire published below, in which the Enquirer asked Council candidates to state their position on the budget,Wendell Young stated:

I don't think it is wise to toss around half-hearted and unvetted ideas, especially when the size and scope of the projected deficit has not yet been determined. But - in the same manner that I approach all issues - I believe everything should be on the table for deliberation, though I think that tax increases should be an absolute last resort.
So, even though tax increases are a last resort, BEFORE they took a look at cutting a single line item from the budget, the FIRST THING Council did, and in which Wendell Young joined, was to raise taxes.

Then, here is the really, really funny thing.  Young says "I don't think it is wise to toss around half-hearted and unvetted ideas, especially when the size and scope of the projected deficit has not yet been determined," and yet he adopted and voted for a half-hearted and unvetted idea, the $4.4 million atrium project, before the size of the deficit was determined.

What an ass.

Seelbach lied

In this week's vote to raise property taxes, we note that when Chris Seelbach ran for election last year he very simply lied:

When asked by the Enquirer where he stood on the budget, Seelbach was firmly anti-tax.

His response:
I do not support any increase in property, income or sales taxes. I support sharing services with the county and partnering with other local municipalities to find greater efficiencies. I also support a "pay-as-you-throw" garbage fee, a fair way to increase revenue, promote recycling and spend less on landfill fees. 
We have a word for that: liar!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Chabot rocks

U.S. Representative Steve Chabot is a common sense conservative, a "rock star" in Congress.

COAST's latest reason for enthusiasm for Representative Chabot: He introduced on the floor of the House an amendment to a transportation appropriations bill to forbid spending any further federal monies on the Cincinnati Streetcar.  That amendment was was adopted by voice acclamation, without objection, and the bill itself also has passed the House.

This does not and will not affect the $37 million already awarded by the Obama administration to the Cincinnati boondoggle, but will prevent any monies in FYs 2013 and 2014 from being added to that pot.  Representative Chabot has committed to re-introduce that amendment each biennial cycle going forward.

This means the federal spigot will be cut off from spending any more monies on this project, if Representative Chabot is successful.  Period.  The Mallory/Qualls pipe dream of using federal monies to run the line to Clifton will be dead as long as Representative Chabot is in Congress.

The backstory

Here's the backstory to that action that is even more interesting.

Early this year, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory made a pilgrimage to Representative Chabot, and informed him that he needs additional federal funding for the current leg of the Streetcar, and for future extensions of the same (i.e., up the Vine Street hill to Clifton and beyond).  Representative Chabot, as reported by his staff, laughed, and said that of course he would not be supportive of either request, as he opposed the Streetcar funding. 

But here's where Representative Chabot's heroism shines through.  Instead of doing the "political" thing and simply refraining from helping Mallory, he decided to try to put a stop to the waste affirmatively.  Thus, he and his staff worked diligently to introduce and pass the ban that we read about in the newspaper this week.

You can see Representative Chabot's introduction of the amendment and the accompanying floor speech here:

The federal legislation prospectively

News reports have downplayed the effect of the bold Chabot move.  However, Representative Chabot's office reports that now that the amendment is in the House passed bill, there is a good chance it will become law.  The Senate could strip the provision when it addresses the appropriations bill, but even then Speaker John Boehner could insist it remain in the agreed conference version of the legislation.

What this all means

Never in the history of this City has a major capital project proceeded with so little consensus in the community, and with so much opposition.  To date, the Streetcar project is opposed by Governor John Kasich, the entire Ohio legislature (House and Senate) (which has outlawed all state spending on the project) (thank you Senator Shannon Jones!), the Ohio Department of Transportation (which yanked $52 million in funding from the project) the Hamilton County Commission (which outlawed the use of MSD funds for the project), COAST, the NAACP, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Cincinnati Firefighters Union, the CODE Labor Union, the Baptist Ministers, Westwood Concern, County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, former Congressman and Mayor Tom Luken, and former Cincinnati City Council Finance Chairman John Cranley.

So, in addition to the legal consequence of the Chabot amendment, in addition to the fiscal roadblocks erected at the State and County levels against the foolishness at City Hall, the growing and loud community consensus against the Streetcar is fair warning to Mayor Mallory, Roxanne Qualls and the remainder of the Batshit Crazy Council that this is simply the wrong direction for our fine City.

What's next

There are two remaining pressure points that COASTers intend to push to cut off funding for the Streetcar project.

  • First, the City intends to spend some $11 million on the project from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport.  Federal legislation prevents such use of those funds; they must be plowed back in to aviation-related capital improvements.  COAST through lobbying and legal steps intends to see that that law is enforced. 
  • Second, the Mayor has persuaded Duke Energy to seek a City-only increase to electric and natural gas rates to fund the $12.5 million funding gap for relocation of Duke Energy's utility lines.  COAST intends to lead the battle at PUCO to prevent that rate increase.
In the meantime, Mayor Mallory has insisted he is proceeding with the streetcar project, which is not only a complete waste of money, a boondoggle of epic proportions, but is a project he does not have the funding to complete.  Yes, he is some $50 million short of the capital funding for the first leg to Findlay Market.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why COAST insists that the Mayor and his merry band of thieves on Council and in the administration are completely insane.