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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.”

Indeed.

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Arts & Entertainment News

Award-Winning Filmmaker’s Latest Project Highlights Lower Price Hill’s Oyler School

Lower Price Hill is a neighborhood that has seen better days, but recent and ongoing efforts to turn things around in the largely Appalachian and Hispanic community have begun to prove successful.

Some of those efforts include the more recent co-op approach being employed by the Lower Price Hill Community School to help deliver services and offerings that are not currently available to residents of the historic neighborhood. But it is the $21 million renovation of Oyler School that is seen as the spark for the recent improvements.

“Roughly half of the children in U.S. public schools today come from low-income families, and a debate is raging over how to help more of them succeed,” write filmmakers for the new documentary entitled Oyler. “Oyler School’s approach—combining academic, health, and social services under one roof—is catching on around the country.”

Amy Scott, an independent documentary filmmaker and correspondent for public radio’s Marketplace show, says that she has spent a year reporting from Oyler, and believes the documentary tells a story that has become commonplace throughout America.

Oyler tells a gripping story of individuals fighting for change in a unique American community, but it also takes on one of our country’s most pressing challenges – the persistent achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers,” wrote Scott on the project’s Kickstarter page.

The major underlying theme is about how Lower Price Hill is using its public school to transform itself and the lives of those who call it home. In a more direct message, the film also speaks to the nationally acclaimed community learning centers being employed by Cincinnati Public Schools.

While Scott’s team has already been successful at raising just over their initial goal of $25,000 for the film through Kickstarter, the campaign will remain open for one more week. The team says that the funds will be used to cover the costs associated with producing an original music score, sound mix and color correction, rights for commercial music and archival footage, and a professional website.

After the campaign closes next week, the team will get to work on finishing up the documentary and doing the requisite post-production work for a film of this nature. They say that there will be film screenings in Cincinnati and Baltimore next fall, at a minimum, and at other locations depending on those who provided more than $5,000 to the campaign.

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News Opinion Politics

EDITORIAL: What Cranley’s Clever Budget Means for Urbanists

As has been widely reported thus far, the budget proposed by Mayor Cranley’s Administration is not as bad as many had expected it would be. That is, the administration’s proposal that is predicated on a massive reduction in required pension contributions is not that bad.

Should the proposed reduction to 14% in pension contributions not be accepted by a federal court, then all bets are off as to where this budget will actually go, since the vast majority of its balancing comes from that assumption. This is a major assumption, and one that will not be clarified until later this summer.

One of Cranley’s interesting moves relates to the Focus 52 program, established under Mayor Mallory’s Administration, that targeted funds for economic development projects throughout every city neighborhood. The fund relied, in part, on $3,000,000 in casino revenues to pay for its capital projects, which oddly enough were included in the Operating Budget in prior years.

The proposed budget shifts these Focus 52 projects from the Operating Budget to the Capital Budget, but the $3,000,000 in funding does not move along with them. As a result, the $3,000,000 is being used to help balance the Operating Budget, thus eliminating funding for all Focus 52 capital projects, or requiring cuts elsewhere in the Capital Budget to cover the costs.

The clever ledger shift allows Cranley to essentially eliminate the Focus 52 program without a special hearing process, and thus free up $3,000,000 annually for the Operating Budget that would have otherwise gone to support these neighborhood economic development projects.

City of Cincinnati Personnel Changes Since 2013

The City will have its first public hearings on the budget proposal starting tomorrow. For those of you who care about urbanism, UrbanCincy’s editorial team has gone through every page of Cranley’s budget proposal and identified the following major items of concern:

  1. Public Safety (police and fire) would consume 65.8% of the Operating Budget. While consuming two-thirds of the Operating Budget, only one-third of the City’s overall staffing would be made up of Public Safety personnel.
  2. Since the year 2000, Public Safety will have seen its personnel levels decrease by 4% (87 FTE), while all other departments will have collectively seen their personnel decrease by 17.7% (803 FTE).
  3. The City of Cincinnati would not repay $2,000,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars to Cincinnati Public Schools as previously agreed.
  4. The Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS), which is a shared technology and mapping service between the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, would see its funding reduced by $335,560, bringing its total funding down to $4,448,000.
  5. An additional $279,100 would be allocated to repair an estimated 8,000 potholes. This money would come at the expense of $154,100 in funding previously programmed for solar trash receptacles/compactors and $125,000 for a customs house at Lunken Airfield.
  6. Even though the Department of Planning & Buildings generates more in revenues than it has in expenses, and has won national accolades the last two years, it would see its Neighborhood Studies fund completed eliminated ($81,700).
  7. The Bicycle Transportation Program would be completely modified to only include funding and staff time for off-road trails, and eliminate all funding and staff resources for the development of any bike lanes, sharrows, bike racks or other on-street bike facilities.
  8. The Office of Environment & Sustainability would have $77,500 cut from its budget; while the Urban Forestry (street tree) Program would see its funding increase $46,650.
  9. A whopping 1,954 vehicles out of the City’s total 2,419 vehicles are out of life cycle because they have exceeded the established standards for maximum mileage, age or maintenance costs.
  10. The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority would continue to receive $700,000 for operations, but would receive no money for capital projects as had been anticipated following the cancellation of the Parking Modernization & Lease Agreement that would have otherwise provided the Port Authority with a funding stream for capital projects.

While this budget proposal may technically be “structurally balanced”, it does so by craftily moving budget items around from one ledger to the other, defunding programs that either generate or save money over the long-term, and overly relying on what could be considered this year’s one-time budget fix – a reduction to 14% pension contribution that would equate to $7,100,000 in savings annually.

The City should fulfill its payment obligations to Cincinnati Public Schools, fully fund all aspects of its revenue generating Department of Planning & Buildings, renew the Bicycle Transportation Program to its originally intended goals established through an extensive public engagement process, restore funding to CAGIS and the Office of Environment & Sustainability, return the funds programmed for solar trash receptacles/compactors, and shift the funding associated with Focus 52 capital projects to the Capital Budget along with the projects.

Outside of this budget process, the City should also move forward with a comprehensive effort to fix its outdated fleet of vehicles, provide a stable and substantial revenue stream for the Port Authority and balance its budget in a way that does not create a police state.

The clever maneuvers demonstrated in Cranley’s first budget proposal show ingenuity, but UrbanCincy would prefer seeing that ingenuity being used to solve the actual problems present instead of relying on financing tricks.

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The UrbanCincy Podcast

Episode #11: Urban Politics

On the eleventh episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Terry Grundy joins the UrbanCincy team to discuss urban politics, both in terms of the current election season and larger issues facing America’s cities.

We discuss the pros and cons Cincinnati’s Issue 4 and how big of an effect it would actually have on city politics. We also discuss some of the historical changes to the offices of the mayor and city council in Cincinnati.

Additionally, we talk about Issue 2 and how redistricting affects cities. Terry explains why political parties have taken different positions on cities, and why urban issues didn’t come up in this year’s presidential debates.

Finally, we discuss how other political issues, such as gun control and improving public schools, influence (or are influenced by) our cities.

Photo by Gary Jungling on Flickr.

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Up To Speed

Taft High School in West End achieves LEED Platinum certification

Taft High School in West End achieves LEED Platinum certification

The Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School is the first Ohio high school to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The certification results from the building’s many environmentally-friendly features and its location in a dense urban neighborhood. More from Building Cincinnati:

Green features include one of the region’s largest green roofs, funded in partnership with the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. The building also boasts exterior sunshades, a high-efficiency “active chilled beam” HVAC system, and water-saving appliances and fixtures.