As reported by Joseph, Cincinnati is set to lay off 344 employees, all from police and fire. This comes as a result of a ruling by a Republican judge that the city’s parking plan*, passed as an emergency measure, is subject to November referendum.
The referendum kills the plan because the city needs a balanced operating budget on July 1, and the vote won’t be held until November. The city lost $25M in revenue from the 2013 budget due to Kasich’s budget.
To cut to the chase, the judge’s ruling says “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.”
In essence, the section of the charter governing emergency ordinances doesn’t explicitly say that Cincinnati emergency ordinances are, like all other emergency ordinances, immune to referendum. The judge, Robert Winkler, interpreted that to mean that an emergency clause does nothing; the city is appealing to Judge Ted Winkler, in hopes that he takes a different interpretation. There’s no word from Tracy Winkler, the Clerk of Courts, on dysfunctional politics in Hamilton County.
This means that, after April 1, any ordinance passed by City Council would be subject to a 90-day delay if opponents began gathering signatures. Even if the signature drive failed, the City would still be short the $25M it needs for a balanced budget on July 1.
The lawsuit was brought by COAST, a fiscal-oriented rebrand of CCV. They have a petition-signature machine that can churn out the 8522 signatures needed to delay any ordinance until November (at which point they subsequently lose). They don’t need to win the election; they don’t even need to qualify for the ballot. As long as they get the injunction, we have to lay off safety.
The Mayor has no choice but to make administrative cuts, which are not subject to referendum. That means layoffs to police and fire, or laying off everybody else who works for the city… and also laying off some police and fire.
In short, Kasich and the Republicans have succeeded in cutting the size of government. We’ll get to experience true freedom: having our insurance rates go up by more than our taxes would.
The politics here are simple: Kasich causes a deficit in a majority-Dem municipality, then Republicans attack the Dem solutions to the budget deficit.
After today, the stakes are drastically raised. Now Republicans (and opportunistic non-incumbent Democrats) can attack the safety layoffs and attack the likely debt downgrade and the general chaos caused by the fact that council has lost basically all of its power. Even though they’re responsible for each of those things!
Que faire? I think making the issue attack on Kasich is the best way to proceed (which is why I’ve been saying it for a month). This is Kasich’s deficit, and these are the Kasich layoffs. Especially for Democrats who oppose the deal, framing the issue around Kasich (rather than the incumbent’s actions) , lowering the likelihood that there’ll be a Democratic mayor with a Republican council.
It’ll also serve as valuable message testing for 2014 attacks on the local impact of Kasich’s budget–an election which is way more important than which Democrats get power in Cincinnati. In effect, there is (at this point) little reason to vote for the people attacking the incumbents if you blame Kasich for the city’s deficit**. If we move the frame to Kasich and more than 2 incumbents lose, then it’s probably a line of attack that won’t work in 2014.
The best part of blaming Kasich for Cincinnati’s budget is that it’s the truth. If he’s reelected, guess what? No municipal budget will ever be balanced.
* This is the parking plan. It has its ups and downs, and it’s rightly controversial. I think it’s the best option that’s been presented. The city will lease all parking operations to the Port Authority, who will 1) sell bonds and give the money to the city and 2) form a partnership with Cincinnati and some private companies. Parking rates and ticket rates will be indexed to inflation (after a one-time bump), meters will be modernized so that you can pay with your phone or a credit card, and meter operations will be outsourced to Xerox. Meter money and ticket money go to the city; contractors get a flat rate. AFSCME members are transferred and get raises. Every subcontract needs to be renewed each 10 years, and after 30 years Cincinnati gets everything back (including $150M+ in capital upgrades to parking facilities). There are risks, but it generates more long-term money for the city than doing nothing at all.
Sure, #2 is more fun to talk about, but the bond sale is what keeps Cincinnati from defaulting on July 1. The bond sale is cheaper when they’re Port Authority’s bonds (by a ton), so Port Authority needs to outsource to somebody. What Columbus is doing would seem to be preferable, except that it doesn’t generate the up-front operating money.
** This is constructive criticism.