News Politics

Republicans Sweep Through Mid-Term Elections, While Liberal Issues Pass With Voters

It was a predictably bad night for area Democrats as their party suffered strong defeats in virtually every race. Republicans retained state-level control by winning Ohio’s seats for Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor, Secretary of State and Governor.

John Kasich’s impressive gubernatorial win over Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald has now put the Westerville Republican onto the shortlist of potential candidates to challenge Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. For a sense of how impressive Kasich’s victory was, the incumbent won all but two of Ohio’s 88 counties, including all major urban counties that are typically Democratic strongholds.

Other localized elections in the Cincinnati area were less significant due to the massive redistricting and gerrymandering that occurred in recent years to firmly solidify districts for Republicans.

Democrats and Republicans alike were able to celebrate, however, in the overwhelming passage of Issue 8. The campaign for the so-called Icon Tax got off to a rocky start when supporters felt burned following the removal of Music Hall from the tax against the recommendations of the Cultural Facilities Task Force. The approval of Issue 8 means that a quarter-cent sales tax will go into effect in Hamilton County in 2015 and stay in effect until 2020, providing an estimated $170 million to perform a $231 million renovation of Cincinnati’s historic Union Terminal building in Queensgate.

The big national news was the Republicans retaking control of the Senate. The news was perhaps punctuated by Mitch McConnell’s (R) surprisingly large margin of victory over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. The win now places McConnell – a 30-year Senate veteran – in position to assume one of the most powerful political seats in America as Senate Majority Leader.

During the campaign, both Grimes and McConnell campaigned heavily in Northern Kentucky. In contrast to the Bluegrass State’s other urban areas – Louisville and Lexington – Northern Kentucky voted strongly in favor of the Republican incumbent.

What is unclear as a result of this McConnell victory is the future of the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project. Both campaigns had focused on project when speaking to Northern Kentucky voters who have pushed back against the idea of using tolls to pay for the project in lieu of waiting for federal funding that has never come during McConnell’s tenure.

Back on the north side of the river, the peculiar race between Cecil Thomas (D) and Charlie Winburn (R) ended in the least dramatic way possible.

The strongly Democratic district was considered to potentially be up for grabs, but Thomas cruised to an easy victory over one of Cincinnati City Council’s two Republicans. This race was particularly intriguing due to the thought that a vacated Winburn seat on City Council would go to a special election in 2015 that would be heavily favored for Democrats, and thus allow for a significant power shift on the divided nine-member council.

In what is perhaps a nod of confidence from voters, Cincinnati Public Schools saw their levy renewal pass with a whopping 70% of the vote. CPS, the area’s largest school district, has now recorded a string of consecutive levy victories following years of significant improvement and national recognition.

For those of you who carry around a Pocket City Charter, a variety of changes to Cincinnati’s Charter through Issue 11, which proponents described generally as housecleaning items. These changes, however, are part of an ongoing effort to update the governing document. It is expected that more dramatic changes are forthcoming, but for now the 213-year-old Charter just got freshened up.

National Results With Local Implications
Going forward, two other issues that continue to move forward nationally, but have yet to come to a head locally include the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage.

Yesterday, voters in Washington D.C., Oregon and Alaska voted to legalize the use of marijuana, while voters in Florida voted against legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This means that six states have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while another 19 have legalized it for medicinal purposes.

Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Ohio voters approve of the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the matter has yet to come to a vote. Meanwhile in Kentucky, a SB 43 died when the Kentucky legislature adjourned in April of this year without taking further action on legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

While not a voting decision, a federal judge in Kansas yesterday also overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This comes at a time where judges across the nation are consistently ruling such bans unconstitutional. With this decision, same-sex couples now have the legal right to marry in 33 states, with decisions pending in Montana and South Carolina.

In both Ohio and Kentucky, judges have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but those rulings are currently being challenged and have moved on to higher courts. If the trend continues, as expected, both states will join the group of states where same-sex marriage is now legal.

The night was perhaps best summed up in a single tweet from FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman who wrote, “So voters want a higher minimum wage, legal pot, abortion access and GOP representation. Ok then.”


Up To Speed

You can thank Congress for all those tolls that will soon hit the Cincinnati region

You can thank Congress for all those tolls that will soon hit the Cincinnati region.

This should be a wake-up call for not just the lawmakers who have failed to raise the gas tax since 1993 or peg it to inflation, but also every voter. Locally we hear constantly from the group opposed to the use of tolls to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge or I-75 reconstruction, but the Highway Trust Fund has been bankrupt for many years and surviving on bailouts from Congress year-after-year.

Yes, of course it’s far past time to raise the artificially low gas tax, but it is also time to change the way in which we collect funds to maintain our system and add to its capacity. Instead of a simple tax on gasoline consumption, we should move to a tax that charges people based on how much they use our roadways, not how much they consume gasoline. More from The Hill:

The Department of Transportation (DOT) on Tuesday moved up its projected bankruptcy date for the trust fund that is used to pay for road and transit projects, saying it will now run dry by the end of August. The DOT has warned that the transportation funding shortfall could force state and local governments to cancel infrastructure projects scheduled to begin this summer because federal money will not be able to assist with construction costs.

The Highway Trust Fund is normally filled by revenue collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not be increased since 1993 and infrastructure expenses have outpaced receipts by about $20 billion in recent years as Americans drive less frequently and cars become more fuel efficient. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that lawmakers will have to authorize $100 billion in new spending in addition to the $34 billion that is expected to brought in annually by the gas tax to approve a new six-year transportation bill, which is the length being sought by infrastructure advocates.

Up To Speed

Detroit Gets Free Bridge

Detroit Gets Free Bridge

While the jury is still out regarding the tolling of the Brent Spence Bridge here in the Cincinnati region, another bridge project in Detroit is moving forward with no cost to the local tax base. The federal government recently gave the state of Michigan approval to build the New International Trade Crossing Bridge, a $3.5 billion project that will be entirely funded by Canada. However; the project is not without complications as the new bridge will displace minority property owners and compete with another privately funded bridge up stream. More from NextCity:

Michigan technically isn’t paying for the land or anything having to do with the construction of the bridge. According to the June 2012 Crossing Agreement signed by Snyder and Canadian Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Canada has agreed to cover Michigan’s portion of the bill, amounting to roughly $550 million, a number that the U.S. Department of Transportation will match.

Essentially, Michigan gets a free bridge.

Business News Politics Transportation

President Obama Shifts Attention Toward Economy, Cities in 2013 State of the Union Address

President Barack Obama (D) delivered the annual State of the Union address last evening. The hour-long speech covered a wide range of topics including gun control, military policy, immigration reform, voting rights, domestic economic programs, education reform, and energy policy.

One of the most-discussed topics of the evening was when the President announced his aspirations to see the national minimum wage raised to $9 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour results in an annual income of $14,500 – a number the President says keeps families with two minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

In 2006, Ohioans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living escalator.

“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” President Obama stated. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 1

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 2
The President called for a “Fix-It-First” program during his State of the Union address, but will it make a difference for Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge Rehabilitation/Replacement project? Brent Spence Bridge replacement Alternative 1 (TOP) and Alternative 2 (BOTTOM) renderings provided.

Since the last time Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage, which is effective for all states that have a minimum wage lower than the federal level, 19 different states have voted to raise their respective rates. The President’s $9 an hour proposal with an annual cost-of-living escalator would place it above every state in the union with the exception of Washington which pays its lowest earning workers $9.19 an hour.

In addition to raising the pay for the nation’s lowest earners, the President also pushed for new programs meant to spur job growth in a new economy. He called for the reform of high school education to more effectively train graduates to be able to fill high-tech jobs.

He also asked Congress to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation hubs, modeled after the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) established in Youngstown, OH in August 2012. Those cities selected, the President says, would work to partner businesses with the Department of Defense and Energy.

The President stated that the goal is to transform “regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs” in an effort to jumpstart the next revolution in manufacturing.

The advanced manufacturing policy proposal is one that should certainly catch the attention of local policy leaders as they work to transform Cincinnati’s Mill Creek Valley into a productive economic engine for the 21st century, as laid out in the Growth & Opportunities Cincinnati Plan published in 2008.

Another point of emphasis during the President’s first State of the Union address of his second term revolved around repairing the nation’s existing built environment.

To that end, he discussed retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient, and announced a goal to cut energy wasted by homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years. President Obama continued by calling for a program that would prioritize infrastructure spending on existing assets in need of repair, like Ohio and Kentucky’s combined 4,054 deficient bridges.

“I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs,” said President Obama. “And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.”

Perhaps the biggest bi-partisan applause of the night went to the President’s condemnation of gun violence and call for action to prevent further atrocities like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and those that occur on the streets of America’s cities every day.

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight,” President Obama clarified. “But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”

News Politics Transportation

Congressman Chabot leaving Cincinnatians voiceless in D.C.

Congressman Steve Chabot (R) campaigned on a promise of focusing on improving Cincinnati’s job climate and bringing jobs back to the region. An exclusive UrbanCincy analysis dives into representative Chabot’s Congressional record since rejoining the House of Representatives in 2010.

Since returning to Washington, D.C. in 2010 Congressman Chabot has sponsored 13 bills, nine of which received the support of co-sponsors. The majority of the bills sponsored by Congressman Chabot are rated by GovTrack as having very little chance of passage due to their polarizing nature. The four bills sponsored by Congressman Chabot that have no co-sponsor include his two largest legislative proposals to date – the Stop Wasting American Tax Dollars Act and the Section 8 Reform, Responsibility, and Accountability Act of 2012.

The Banks [LEFT] development and Smale Riverfront Park [RIGHT] received critical federal investment that paid for the construction of its parking garages and public infrastructure. Photographs by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Stop Wasting American Tax Dollars Act:
House Bill 1345 was introduced on April 4, 2011 and has gone nowhere. The intent of the bill, according to the Library of Congress, was to “rescind any unobligated discretionary appropriations awarded to a state or locality by the federal government that are voluntarily returned to it.”

In a nutshell, Congressman Chabot’s proposal was an effort to accomplish want Republicans wanted to do with money refused by state’s like Ohio over the past several years. In particular, this would have allowed Ohio’s $400 million high-speed rail giveaway to go back to the federal government and be used to pay down the deficit.

The bill, however, would not have qualified for funds voluntarily returned by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security.

The intent of Congressman Chabot’s bill would have impacted the $53 billion high-speed rail program introduced by the Department of Transportation in 2009. For comparison, the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security had a combined 2012 budget of $599 billion, or approximately 1,030 percent greater than that of the entire high-speed rail program originally envisioned by the Obama administration.

Section 8 Reform, Responsibility, and Accountability Act of 2012:
Congressman Chabot’s controversial House Bill 4145 was introduced on March 6, 2012, and aimed to amend the United States Housing Act of 1937. According to the Library of Congress, the bill would have “prohibited Section 8 rental assistance, including tenant- and project-based assistance, from being provided to any family that includes a convicted felon or illegal alien.”

Furthermore, the bill would have placed a five-year limitation on Section 8 rental assistance, and would have prohibited any assistance for any family with family members 18 years of age or older who were not performing at least 20 hours of work activities per week.

A third substantive legislative effort was made by Congressman Chabot in the form of House Bill 6178, Economic Growth and Development Act. The bill received bi-partisan co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

According to the Library of Congress, H.R. 6178 directs the President to establish an interagency mechanism to coordinate United States development programs and private sector investment activities, among other things.

The Brent Spence Bridge project will require millions of dollars of federal assistance to become reality.

Depending on what comes out of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, H.R. 6178 may turn out to be the only bill sponsored by Congressman Chabot that has any chance at creating jobs. Whether these jobs would impact Cincinnatians would be another matter.

Congressman Chabot has repeatedly scolded President Barack Obama (D) and Democratic members of Congress since being reelected in 2010 about not doing enough to spur the economy. According to his own record, however, Congressman Chabot has done nothing himself to improve economic conditions or create jobs for Cincinnatians.

“Our economy remains stagnant and unemployment is unacceptably high,” Congressman Chabot writes on his campaign website. ”This Administration has proliferated a hostile environmental that is sustaining that stagnation and high unemployment numbers…we must end the uncertainty small businesses face and start pushing common-sense policies to spur innovation, development and job creation.”

Based on Chabot’s own record, there is no telling what these “common-sense policies” might be, but we do know they will not come in the form of direct federal investment. That would be because Congressman Chabot’s staunch position on not accepting any federal earmarks places Cincinnati at a unique disadvantage to the rest of the country when it comes to receiving critical federal investment that immediately creates local jobs and energizes the local economy.

Such projects that have received such federal help over the past several years include infrastructure at The Banks, Smale Riverfront Park, Cincinnati Streetcar, Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, Interstate 75, Waldvogel Viaduct, Ohio River Trail, and the Millcreek Greenway.

Of course, none of these projects were funded through any help of Congressman Chabot. And as representative Chabot panders to voters about redirecting funds from the Cincinnati Streetcar to the Brent Spence Bridge project, he himself has made no effort whatsoever to help win much-needed federal funding for the $3 billion project.