Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The approaching abyss of fiscal disaster

Regardless of how you view the Parking Plot, yesterday was an important day.  Cincinnati essentially sold some of its most valuable assets (for 30 years), and at the same time conveyed some of its sovereignty (over law enforcement functions and setting parking policy) to private companies from New York City, Guggenheim and Xerox.

This insane City Council, with $880 million in pension debt, close to $100 million in streetcar debt, an admittedly structurally imbalanced budget, a declining bond rating, and a crumbling infrastructure, will figure out a way to piss through the $92 million windfall in a few short months, and have decades of reduced parking revenues to show for it.

The events of this week were important for many other reasons as well.  Symbolically and substantively, this Council actively plotted and litigated to deprive their own populace of a vote on the momentous issue.  Then, when the injunction against the Parking Plot lease was finally lifted, the City Manager executed the document in secret, and failed to announce his action for an entire day.

And this was done as a majority of Council announced their opposition to the lease, requiring members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan to switch their votes, and Council member Pamula Thomas to repudiate her own husband's vote on the issue.

This all occurred after, of course, many lies were played out in front of the eyes of the voters -- the assurance that Council, without the parking lease, could not use revenues from "parking facilities" for operating fund purposes untrue!) and that without the parking lease revenues, the City would necessarily lay off more than 300 policemen and firemen (never happened!).  By the time the lease was signed, every claimed justification for the foolish policy had evaporated.

Thus, hurrying and skulking about to avoid the wrath of his own Council and the increasingly outraged electorate, the Mayor and City Manager rushed into a policy that was borne of lies, rejected by the electorate, and abandoned -- in fear of their own voters -- by the very Council that rushed to approve the ill-considered transaction in the first place.

If history teaches us anything, we think it is entirely possible that Cincinnati voters will return this Council largely intact.  And that would be a shame, for after the Glass Atrium vote, the multiple Streetcar votes, and the procedural and substantive policy train wreck that the Parking Plot has become, they certainly know the character of the people they have elected to represent them.

Cincinnati has willingly turned a corner, and it is into the abyss of fiscal disaster.

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