(No?) Parking

(No?) Parking

Don’t take it from me, do your own research.

The picture above is how I feel after doing all of my own research. (Warning:  You, too, may feel this way, but it is only through frustration and feeling uncomfortable that we reach any sort of personal truth.)

So, don’t take it from me, but please don’t take it from COAST either (the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes), or blindly sign one of the petitions they are circulating.

The parking issue that is facing Cincinnati’s City Council – and now posed to go to voter referendum – has become the “hot button” issue of the day. I never thought I would have to address this issue as a City Council candidate because I always believed that the deal would be signed, sealed & delivered well before I hit the campaign trail.

This is not the case.

On this site I have made allusion to the fact that I support the lease. Now, as it is something about which I am asked everywhere I go (from political events to Skyline), I felt the need to give a more in-depth analysis as to why I SUPPORT the leasing of Cincinnati’s parking to the Port Authority.

But first – a bit of back story and context on the organization that is leading the charge against the parking lease, COAST.

COAST has been around for a while, and they are currently being supported by Mayoral Candidate, John Cranley, and Councilman, Chris Smitherman, in their quest to gather enough signatures to move the parking issue to the ballot on November 5th.

So, who is COAST?

According to their website (http://coast-usa.blogspot.com), “COAST exists to limit the rate of taxes and spending at the federal, state, and local level to within the rate of inflation and to stop the abuse of power by government officials.” Furthermore, “COAST advances this cause by consistent and principled adherence to limited government and lower taxes in fighting legislation and ballot initiatives that increase taxes and spending beyond the rate of inflation, and by supporting candidates for public office who advance these principles.”

Pretty much your standard, fiscally conservative fare.

So, who ARE COAST?

COAST are a group of men (some women I am told, but they are not featured prominently in their literature) who do not like taxes, and enjoy railing against progress and blogging about those things. The principle bloggers for COAST are (not counting the ones who choose to remain anonymous):

Mark Miller: Engineer and COAST Treasurer. You may remember Mr. Miller’s name as Chris Seelbach asked him to step down as COAST’s Treasurer after Mr. Miller tweeted, on the 10 year anniversary of September 11th: “3% of FNDY died 10 years ago by terrorism. Today Cincinnati lost 17.5% of fire companies by brownouts to pay for a streetcar. Which is worse?” So, I don’t suppose I need to tell you that COAST hates the Streetcar too.

Jason Gloyd: Real estate agent and COAST Chairman. Mr. Gloyd is a good man, and, although we disagree regarding the parking lease and numerous other politically-charged items, we both DO agree that Pearl Jam is an awesome band.  I believe that Mr. Gloyd cares about Cincinnati, but just has a different idea of how to move forward.  Truly, when elected, I will continue to meet with Mr. Gloyd so as to bring both sides to the table.

Chris Finney: Attorney and COAST Figurehead. Mr. Finney, along with Messrs. Smitherman and Cranley are at the forefront of the grassroots effort to put the parking lease on the ballot. They need 8,500 signatures to do so. Mr. Finney’s name may be familiar to you, as most who follow local politics have run across his name from time to time, but one piece of his career is conspicuously not spoken of all that much. First – we all know that there is a deficit in Hamilton County’s Stadium Account. Some of us know that Mr. Finney and COAST opposed any tax increase (obviously) a few years ago to plug that deficit. To go further back – in 1996 voters ok’d a half-cent sales tax increase that was supposed to pay for both of the new stadiums (this increase was supported by Mr. Finney and the County Commissioners). More backstory – the lease between the Bengals and the County is lopsided, at best. The lease calls for all upgrades to be paid for by the County, revenue to be shared when the stadium is used for other purposes, and, the best of all, does not require the Bengals to pay rent in the latter years of the deal. Wow. Hamilton County got the short end of that stick. But why? In 1995 Mr. Finney lauded the deal, saying, “the plan makes sense and it won’t cost me a nickel.” Oops. Mr. Finney’s plan, all those years ago, was to increase the sales tax and use the increased revenue to rebate some homeowners on their property tax (namely, wealthy homeowners who stand to gain from receiving rebates on property tax – NOTE: this rebate meant nothing to low-income people – and very little to the middle class). Mr. Finney was quoted as saying, “how does this magic happen – that a tax increase results in lower out-of-pocket expenses and solves these crushing problems? The half of the taxes not returned to property owners will be paid by out-of-county residents.” Oops, again. Mr. Finney is an intelligent man, but he was unable to foresee a future in which residents outside of Hamilton County did not make as much money as planned, nor did he account for the low-income residents INSIDE of Hamilton County. But, the good news is that Mr. Finney and his friends got a nice kickback to cushion their bank accounts. Oh! And one more piece of good news – one of the three county commissioners responsible for getting the stadium deal to go through, Bob Bedinghaus, was hired by the Bengals in 2001 and now serves as the team’s Director of Business Development. So, at least someone is profiting off the deal. Lastly, in 2011, the Wall Street Journal, lauded for its conservative presentation of all things fiscal, called the stadium debacle and the Finney-supported-tax-deal “one of the worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government.”

On a side note – most of the members of COAST do not live within city limits. That is not to say that their opinion regarding city politics should not be considered – ALL of Greater Cincinnati’s residents’ opinions matter – but when their opinions do nothing but impede progress in our city core, and, resultingly, outlying areas, I feel that they need back away for they are doing more damage than good.

That is also not to say that the parking lease will magically solve all of our city’s problems, but it IS a step in the right direction. Perhaps some of the upfront $92 million could be used to fill the deficit that Mr. Finney helped to create in the ’90s. I have always been shocked that this proposition never occurred to him. If I was Mr. Finney, I would support the parking deal and propose to siphon the money into Hamilton County’s massive deficit to offset the damage created by the stadium deal.

However, I am NOT Mr. Finney and I do NOT propose that. I DO propose that we lease the parking.

And here’s why.

By this point, all of you are aware that five of the nine City Council members (not to mention the Mayor) support the parking lease. These five members are Roxanne Qualls (current Mayoral Candidate), Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson. COAST and the proposal’s opponents were not at all happy that the lease was passed, but they were even MORE displeased that a majority of Council also passed an emergency clause to move it through quickly. An emergency clause is something that City Councils pass all the time that puts a measure into effect before the assigned date, or immediately. To COAST, a number of community stakeholders, Chirs Smitherman and John Cranley (who is not affiliated with COAST) this passage indicated a violation of due process and violated the rights of voters. It was shortly after the passage of the emergency clause that the petitions began circulating around town to get 8,500 signatures for referendum. Emergency clauses, it should be noted, make legislation NOT subject to referendum. Currently, a federal judge is investigating Cincinnati City Council to see if the passage of the lease was done properly.

I believe that Cincinnati City Council acted appropriately. I believe this because a very brief look at local political history in ANY city will show you that legislation is passed consistently with emergency clauses – this is nothing new. However, for many who do not follow politics closely, the passage of an “emergency clause” that “takes away the power of the voters” is a scary thing. In the same way the parking opponents say that City manager Milton Dohoney’s “Plan B” (cutting both the Fire & Police departments’ recruit classes along with 80 current firemen and 189 current policemen) is a scare tactic, I say, so too is this petition that is circulating around Cincinnati.

I have been asked, since I began publically support the leasing of the city’s parking, when Democrats began favoring the privatization of public assets. The answer is simple – since there was no money in the coffers. This is not a Democrat/Republican issue (evidenced by Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld’s opposition to the lease), this is an economic issue. The current budget deficit stands to be $35 million – $25 million from the initial money garnered from the lease ($92 million total) would go to filling this gap. That said, the upfront $92 million is not a “fix-all,” but it is a good start.

The leasing of the city’s parking, like the Streetcar, is an investment in Cincinnati’s FUTURE. It is difficult to plan for the future because you can’t see it – and may NEVER see it – but it is a responsibility we have to the future generation of Cincinnatians. The parking lease, the Streetcar, and a sound, fiscally-responsible budgeting strategy are what we need in Cincinnati. If the core is strong, the neighborhoods will benefit. And the core IS strong, but could be stronger.  Our strength ensures our viability and economic stability.

The leasing of the city’s parking will raise meter rates. True. However, meter rates are going to rise anyway when the city will be forced to upgrade the meters – and the city will have to manage all of that when it has numerous other things to worry about – such as education, a debilitating State budget that is draining our funding, and a childhood poverty rate that is the fourth worst in the nation. Again, all issues that could be assisted by the additional parking revenue over the course of the 30-year lease.

Furthermore – the Port Authority, a local governing entity, will oversee the companies that run our new parking systems. The city is NOT outsourcing the parking to an outside company. Outside companies will provide technology and expertise, but the Port Authority remains the governing entity.

This parking lease was not dreamt up overnight. PFM Group, a national, independent financial & investment advisory group, did an analysis of the parking lease and concluded that it was a GOOD deal for Cincinnati taxpayers (much unlike the stadium deal). The city also hired Frost, Brown, Todd to negotiate all aspects of the deal on behalf of the city. This was not an “inside job” – not like the stadium deal was – the stadium deal (as you may remember) that was supported by members of the group that is rallying support against this very public parking lease.

 Regarding Mr. Dohoney’s “Plan B” – the cold, hard fact is that the largest part of the City’s budget (70% of it) is spent on public safety. The only way to address our deficit without cutting this portion of the budget is to increase revenues in the short term. Half of the $92 million upfront monies will go toward the deficit – the other half will go to asset-development and new projects that will increase the tax base in the City. Of course, there is the residential tower and grocery store at the current Pogue’s Garage site on 4th Street between Race and Vine, Smale Riverfront Park, and the Wasson Way Bike Trail. Lastly, there is the MLK Interchange project that, according to the latest news, is going to happen with or without the money. The one piece I would add to this conversation is that, while I support the parking lease, I would, once elected, FIGHT to ensure that the jobs offered by all of this new development be given to local hires – As Laure Quinlivan has already done. We must learn from the mistake of The Banks Project which only employed 9% of its workforce from Greater Cincinnati. The jobs need to be kept here for Cincinnatians if our future is to be prosperous.

In closing, and I repeat, do not take it from me – but do not take it from COAST either. Do your research, form an opinion – and base that opinion on FACTS. There are a lot of subjective “facts” swirling around out there regarding the parking lease. This is my opinion, based on the facts as I read & see them.

I am confident that the City will make the correct decision for the future. Politics is about creating a stable future for our children – it is not about ideological whims – when it is, politics fails. When politics looks further down the road, it succeeds – although, when it is forward-thinking it is oftentimes not popular. Regardless, what is popular is not always right.

The parking lease is right for Cincinnati.