Warren County’s transit system is losing its federal funding because its population makes it no longer a “rural county”. The Enquirer reports that county administrators plan to make the system less responsive, rather than close the 60% funding gap.
They are also lobbying SORTA (Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority) to fund Warren County’s van system. This is… special… because Warren County’s median income is much higher than the other counties in Cincy metro, largely because their transportation and land-use policies make it impossible to live there without a car.
The issue is that Warren County doesn’t have a fixed-route bus system. They contract privately-operated vans to pick up passengers who call for a ride, charging $1-$2 one way. As of the 2012 transportation bill, federal funds can only be used for capital expenses in urban areas that lack fixed routes; since it outsources, Warren County has only operating expenses.
Here’s where it gets interesting, and where the Enquirer falls into its traditional stance of protecting Republicans.
They say this is “a glitch in the federal transportation bill” and that “Washington is broken”. “It’s one more example of why I’m so frustrated with government,” says Warren County Commissioner Dave Young, the Least Self-Aware Person in the Room1.
So how did this “glitch” get in the bill? Who knows! Certainly it’s not the Enquirer’s job to worry us with that kind of information. Not in a run-of-the-mill “government can’t do anything right” story.
If you hadn’t guessed, that new provision was in the House version of the bill. The one shepherded by a guy who lives 5 minutes from Warren County.
The one that was approved by Warren County’s 2011 Congresspersons (Turner and Schmidt) and by its current Representative (Chabot). Now, Chabot voted against the conference report, but that’s only because it didn’t specifically defund the Cincinnati streetcar.
So this is a Republican amendment to a Tea Party bill that was intended to hurt cities, but now Republican leaders in exurbs that are contingent on federally-subsidized sprawl are heroically fighting the powers that be to keep limited service for their disabled residents.
I see two possibilities here which grant Republicans the remotest modicum of competence.
1. Warren County just wants to get rid of their van service. Their federal grant is $600,000 in a county of 200,000 residents with a median income of $72,000.
Rather than levy a $3 tax, their commissioners want a bailout from Cincinnati or to just scrap the system altogether while blaming Cincinnati for not bailing them out.
In this context, we should just be grateful the Enquirer didn’t say “the streetcar stole money from retirees in Warren County!”
2. When the county became aware they were going to lose their funding2, they tried to lobby their Representative. However, Warren County (last seen voting to keep SB 5) was used as mindless infantry in the 2010 gerrymander.
When this bill was heading to conference, they were represented by Mike Turner and Jean Schmidt. Turner had just won a competitive primary in Dayton, and surely hadn’t paid attention to the (largely unpopulated) part of Warren County. Schmidt had just lost a competitive primary and was acting even more bizarre than usual.
Steve Chabot, granted a new lease on life by the inclusion of Warren County in OH-1, was spending his political capital to make sure federal funds stayed out of his district. He couldn’t very easily convince the Tea Party to support “urban transit”.
The wealthiest, most Republican county in Ohio, situated 5 minutes away from the Speaker of the House, finds itself powerless in Washington because of gerrymandering.
1 Commissioner Young: “This is a stupid technicality. If anybody ever drives around Warren County, you would know we are not an urban area. We don’t want to use it for capital (costs) because we don’t need that.”
They may drop their van service, but Republican commissioners can always call the wambulance.
2 They were aware, right?
Since a number of Cincinnati politicians are saying we fill our operating deficit by getting rid of the city’s lobbyist, this seems like a good time to point out that this is exactly why cities need lobbyists. Federal laws affect municipal grants! Cities need to know beforehand when those grants are going to change.