Sunday, November 30, 2008

Do you Twitter?

Do you even know what it is? is a social networking site most easily described as a type of instant messaging - but with tons of people. You can following the 'tweets' of others - and they follow you and what you write. The catch is that your posts are limited to 140 characters. But for many, that's enough to say the important things.

Twitter is set up to allow users to send tweets via mobile phone and computer. This allows Twitterers to tell others what they're doing and where - and is also good for on-the-spot news reporting that hasn't yet made the main stream media. During the first several hours of the attacks in India, there were tweets and 're-tweets' (when you copy what someone has posted and send it out yourself to all your followers) from individuals actually in India before the news made it to CNN.

Twitter also allows you to follow subjects. By using a hashtag, like #Obama or #McCain, you can follow what people are posting about those two subjects, when the Twitterer includes it in their post. Twitter has also created the need for smaller url links, with many people using or others, to reduce long addresses down to about 25 characters. This makes it easy for individuals to post a link within the 140 character Twitter limit.

I was first introduced to Twitter by Eric Odom, who owns Fresh Vision Media, when he was a speaker at a conference (Samsphere) hosted by the Sam Adams Alliance. He told us that Twitter could actually replace blogs as the main new media tool for communication. Considering that I was not even on the cutting edge when it came to my blog, I was a bit intimidated by the idea that something I hadn't yet mastered might shortly be extinct. However, with encouragement, I opened a Twitter account and started following people - like Eric Odom and many of my fellow Samsphere conferees.

Many will say that Twitter entered the 'main stream' with the #dontgo movement (started by Odom and others), to tell House Speaker Nance Pelosi not to leave Congress until they'd passed a drilling bill. Several internet-savvy House members were 'tweeting' from the House floor during this issue, providing real-time updates about what was going on, including their personal thoughts about it.

As a tool for communication, especially between politicians and their constituents, Twitter has immense possibilities. It provide the opportunity for elected officials to instantly update their followers - and it provides the impetus for urging them to immediate action.

Lately, I've been following the postings of several candidates for the chairmanship of the National Republican Party. Saul Anuzis, Michigan's GOP chairman, is a regular poster on Twitter. House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio, and our local Congressman, Bob Latta, also tweet. You can also follow the tweets of numerous news outlets and other groups or organizations.

You should be aware - tweets are not all political. In fact, most of what is tweeted is routine, conversational-type updates: "I'm here and this is what I'm doing." Since this is a social networking site, such everyday posts help you learn about people - their lives, their interests, their activities - as they do you. It becomes a way of getting to know people, and communicating with them. Twitter has the ability to direct your post to someone (by using the @username tag) or by sending a direct message.

Duane Lester, at All American Blogger, has a good post about Twitter and why Conservatives should make better use of it.

Michael Leahy, author and Republican strategist, just recently created his Top Conservatives on Twitter list, and I'm highly honored to be on it, despite my short time actually participating. The list also gives you a good selection of people to start following. And following those who follow you is the 'polite' thing to do on Twitter.

I want to emphasize something Odom said when he was telling us about Twitter - 95% of what you read, see will not be 'valuable' in terms of your business or your politics, but the 5% that is, well, that's pure gold. But Twitter isn't just about getting that piece of information before anyone else. It's about building a community - a wide, global network of interconnectivity - and that's a benefit no matter who you are.

My Twitter name is Maggie82 - I hope you'll join Twitter and we can follow each other.

(And no - this is not a paid post.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another 'story' on the bogus Food Stamp Challenge

Yes, tying in with Thanksgiving and religion, here's another story from a reporter at The Blade about the 'suffering' he endured while taking the bogus Food Stamp Challenge.

He repeats the assertion - a false one - that you can live on $23 a week, but not in a healthy way. Too bad he didn't read my blog post before embarking upon this ridiculous marketing/lobbying stunt, otherwise, he would have known how to pick healthy foods on a limited budget...kind of like what millions of us do every day - and not just one week of the year.

"It turned out to be a week of doing without.

No juice. No Diet Coke. No coffee. No English muffins. No dessert. No bottled water."

Oh my! If I'm dependent upon the generosity of others to be able to eat, I might have to do without pop, coffee, English muffins and dessert? How TERRIBLE!

By the way, when I demonstrated the ludicrous nature of this stunt, I was able to buy several packs of Jello - plenty dessert for one person for several weeks.

And to go without bottled water??? Oh the humanity! Um...perhaps he hasn't read his own paper enough to know that Toledo has some of the best drinking water in the nation. Why would you need to purchase bottled anything if you can get it for free?

Additionally, he writes:

"While I was struggling through the week, however, I knew I was only going to do it for seven days. For too many people, living on a $23 grocery budget isn't a seven-day test, it's a way of life."

Here's where the whole 'reporting' thing falls apart. No one gets $23 a week to live on if they get Food Stamps. That is just the average and it supplements what families already have to spend. According to the USDA website, if you're a single person without any other source of income, you'd actually get $40.51 per week - which is actually 173% more than the $23 being used in the bogus challenge. That's $176 per month, and you get it all at once at the beginning of the month on a debit card - which means you have the ability to purchase many things in bulk, cook meals ahead of time and divide and freeze them, ensuring enough healthy meals for the entire month.

So why didn't the reporters participating in this bogus challenge actually look at the facts? Why didn't they do a simple search to see if the dollar amount was accurate? Did they just take the information provided in a press release as 'gospel'?

More insidiously, did they research the information and then ignore it so they could do the story designed to appeal to our hearts rather than to our minds? Are they so easily duped into participation because they want to 'feel' rather than 'think'? Or did they purposefully ignore the facts in order to promote the not-so-hidden agenda of lobbyists?

Either they're ignorant or deceitful - you decide. But the worst part about this whole thing is that the purpose of the 'challenge' is to fail. They don't want to know how it can be done, they want 'evidence' of how it can't. Then the Food Research and Action Center can take this evidence to Washington and lobby for more handouts.

Fellow blogger Tom Blumer followed up on this story with a post on I think he says it all when he writes:

What I said back in March, with minor updating, still holds:

Those who have a problem with benefit levels need to tell us what, if anything, is wrong with the formulas that reduce Maximum Allotments, and work with federal legislators to change them. But instead of doing that constructive work, politicians and advocates have spent over a year taking part in media-grandstanding “Food Stamp Challenges” and other silly exercises, all based on the bogus assumption, without providing any proof, that the net benefit is "all that participants have for food." By insisting on (excuse the expression) feeding us this garbage, they’ve squandered their credibility. If they really believe that Food Stamp recipients are being shortchanged, they have, by posturing on a false premise, helped to perpetuate that situation, and have done nothing to alleviate it.

Here's a better challenge to The Blade: use some of your reporters to actually report on the situation rather than be pawns in a marketing campaign; have someone observe grocery stores and see what people using the Food Stamp cards actually purchase; interview those people to find out why they bought what they did and how they plan to prepare it; don't accept a press release as 'gospel,' even in the religion section of the paper; be a newspaper - not a propaganda machine. We'll all be better off as a result, including those who have little to live on.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Good idea or meeting a need that shouldn't exist?

Today's paper has a interesting article about a National Science Foundation five-year research project called SETGO, Science, Engineering, and Technology Gateway Ohio.

The program includes a five-week summer “bridge” program at Owens to help get students prepared for college-level math and science and bolster interest in the subjects.

Some of the grant money will pay for the students’ tuition and fees during the summer course. As an incentive, they’ll get a $1,000 bonus upon completion.
The bridge program is modeled off a successful initiative at BGSU that encourages women and minorities to pursue careers in math and science called AIMS, or Academic Investment in Math and Science.

The second component of the SETGO program is an academic-year learning community in Bowling Green called Art of Science Community.

The idea is to gather students, faculty, and staff from across the science and math disciplines on a regular basis for interaction.
The SETGO program’s final piece includes research opportunities for the students to work in a campus laboratory.

The students will do hands-on work and be paid $3,500 for their summer job as a researcher for 10 weeks.

Although the program stresses that a degree in the sciences doesn’t have to translate into lab research, leaders say the experience will be worthwhile.

I like it - I think it's creative, innovative and - with the involvement of the Universities - hopefully highly successful.

But then the questions start, like 'why do we need summer classes to prepare students for science and math at the college level'? Isn't that what our high schools are supposed to do?

According to, as many as 40% of college students will take at least one remedial class while in college. Why? Because they are unprepared.

Recognizing this, universities and foundations have stepped in to address the situation - with programs like this.

In Ohio, the Board of Regents has been increasing their support of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies, with five STEM high schools across the state. Again, that's good. But why aren't there more? And if a STEM-focused education is so critical, why aren't we doing it in all schools, or offering it as an alternative educational track?

The answer is not easy to discern, but part of the problem will be the lack of qualified instructors to actually teach such courses, so hopefully the focus will also be on modifying the curriculum for teachers-to-be. Additionally, it's the focus on all non-related educational things (like self-esteem, social awareness and cultural diversity), that reduce the amount of time students get being taught things that schools should be teaching.

So while I'm glad for the program, I'm sad that it's needed, especially when our tax dollars are, in many ways, paying for both the problem - and the proposed solution.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Quote of the day

"Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting." ~ Author Unknown ~

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thoughts on the conveyance tax increase-why taxation does not lead to growth

According to the Lucas County Commissioners, if they increase this tax - the 'cost' of selling your property - they will be able to fund their economic development efforts. Their 'logic' is that an additional tax amount will lead to growth in the county.

Increasing a tax does NOT lead to growth - except in the numbers of entities that put their hands out for that money.

The way to provide an environment that leads to growth is NOT to make it more costly to do business in the area. Taking more money from taxpayers, residents, businesses and even visitors, does not leave them with funds to invest, create new products, spend in the local economy or start/expand a business. Taxes remove capital from the economy and divert them to expanded government functions - which create nothing for the market.

Before the Lucas County Improvement Corporation was re-organized, it performed various functions on behalf of its members. The County's Economic Development Department also performed various functions - supporting economic development projects and providing the 'public sector tools' to be used by private investors as they created the jobs. If the LCIC were to revert to its previous structure, these tasks would still be performed.

I'm not advocating the destruction of the LCIC, but I am questioning the logic of removing money from the economy in order to support a government (or quasi-government) agency.

Think about it - when did increased taxes ever create more jobs than the private sector if the money stayed in the hands of the taxpayers? Some will claim that taxation can result in construction jobs as government spends money to construct buildings (like arenas) or roads. While some may question the logic of government building roads, most would agree that roads are a legitimate function of government so it is true that when government builds roads, it 'creates' a job. However, it is a temporary job and certainly not a long-term strategy for economic growth.

True growth in a community comes about when individuals have money - not when government takes every spare cent, and then some. When people have money, they put some into savings accounts, generating assets that banks use for lending. When people have money, they invest it, providing the capital for others to expand and grow. When people have money, they spend it, putting dollars into the local economy and exchanging it for goods and services which, in turn, creates demand for those goods and services, leading to growth.

If government takes those funds, they're telling you and me and every taxpayer, resident and business, that they need those dollars for their own purposes more than they think you need them. Talk about arrogance - telling us that their purposes (in this case: funding positions and offices and expenses) are more important than our own retirement, medical bills, mortgages, children's educations, etc....

To make matters worse, their additional taxation will NOT contribute to economic development or growth in the county.

(You see, the problem isn't what we are or aren't doing - it's that we need MORE MONEY. And where have we heard that argument before???)

Many individuals who would normally be against additional taxation are saying that dedicating this tax to the LCIC is okay. They also say that consolidating the functions being performed by the numerous economic development entities will result in the turn-around we so desperately want to see. But they're putting the cart before the horse. They're all saying to impose the tax and provide the funds. Why aren't they first saying consolidate, eliminate duplication and then see how much money is truly necessary?

The task force the Commissioners established to make recommendations about the LCIC did more than say 'provide steady funding.' Other suggestions included changing the bylaws and structure and exiting their costly offices in the train station. According to some, that would save thousands every month. Why isn't cutting costs the FIRST step in order to determine exactly how much money is actually required to operate? Why is a tax the first step?

It's because a tax is 'easy' to do, while restructuring would require some to give up their power inherent in the current set-up. It would also result in a loss of control for a few who would rather take more of your money than 'do the right thing.' It's also because the people making the decisions do not understand the basics of economics. Remember, these are the same people who think billing your insurance company, Medicaid or Medicare for ambulance runs doesn't result in any cost to you. With that sort of logic, it should come as no surprise that they think taxing you and taking more of your money will result in growth in the area.

The problem in Lucas County is not a lack of spending on economic development. It is the philosophy that government needs our disposable income and, once it has it, they will somehow create jobs. Even when these same politicians mouth the words 'government doesn't create jobs,' they act in a opposite way, giving lie to the words they've uttered.

If the Lucas County Commissioners and those supporting this increased tax were really interested in economic development, why did they vote to put increased property tax levies on the ballot? Why did they support and campaign for the increased property taxes? Why are they spending money on non-essential things, thus increasing the costs of government? Why are they creating news rules and regulations on people and businesses? Why are they raising fees and creating new costs for people and businesses to pay? Why are they NOT doing what has proven to work every time: lowering tax rates????

If these individuals were truly dedicated to creating an environment that leads to growth, they'd do what works - and they'd know what that is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'Not business friendly' post #16 - I told you so

How I wish I were wrong...but I did tell you this was going to be a problem.

Today the Lucas County Commissioners hold the first of two hearings (at 2 p.m. in the Commissioner hearing room on the first floor of Government Center) on the proposal to increase the Lucas County Conveyance Fee from $3 to $4.

The conveyance fee is a tax for transferring any property within the County. The fee is charged per $1,000 value of the home, so a $100,000 house would have a fee of $300 or, if the increase is approved, $400.

The claimed purpose of this increase is to fund the Lucas County Improvement Corporation, as recommended by a 'task force' the Commissioners put together to address many of the issues that were arising and the criticism from Comm. Ben Konop.

Comm. Pete Gerken supports the idea, but Comm. Tina Skeldon Wozniak has been non-committal in her public comments. Comm. Konop opposes the tax, saying we don't need another tax in the county, but his main objection is not the tax, rather the intended use. He wants to destroy the LCIC and failure of a source of funding would help. Interestingly, he was much more receptive to the idea of using the tax for a housing fund, as suggested by Toledo Councilman Joe McNamara.

The LCIC was re-created in 2005 following the election of Pete Gerken as a commissioner. Originally - and prior to being sworn in as a commissioner - he met with current Comm. Wozniak and then Toledo Mayor Jack Ford to discuss merging the county and city economic development efforts. Unfortunately, when he shared with me this idea, I had to inform him that such a merger was not allowed under Ohio law.

Plan B was to take the existing LCIC and reorganize it into a different type of entity, including designating it as the county's economic development agency and expanding its staff. Gerken's thought was that the new LCIC would somehow get the proceeds of the Port Authority tax levy, in light of the separation of the Regional Growth Partnership (which had been funded with those dollars) from the Port Authority and its re-establishment as a completely privately-funded, business-led economic development agency.

My objections to Gerken's plan was that it created a large bureaucracy, put all the power in the hands of the elected Mayor and the majority of the Commissions (as they got to make appointments), and had no source of funding to meet the increased budget costs that would result from the re-organization.

As I said at the time, the devil is in the details - in this case, the details on how the entity was to be funded. But that didn't dissuade Gerken and Wozniak who went ahead anyway with new offices, new staff and additional costs.

Now, especially with the financial situation in the county, they don't have the funds necessary for the organization to continue in its present form.

Enter a new tax - the conveyance fee increase.

At the time, I told them that the only way they could generate the amount of money necessary to support the structure they were proposing was to spend county dollars for the expansion - or to raise a tax due to the dwindling amount of available funds within the county's general fund.

The Commissioners, in setting up a 'task force' to 'examine' the issue and 'make recommendations' have a degree of deniability when it comes to this new tax - they think. However, we all know that the responsibility falls firmly at the feet of Pete Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak for refusing to address this issue BEFORE going ahead with the new structure.

Please don't get me wrong - I support the idea of the LCIC and believe it has been highly successful in getting all the jurisdictions in Lucas County working together. That's a major accomplishment. But it could have had that success without the internal structure Gerken created - and it wouldn't now need a new tax to support it - if anyone would have heeded my questions and concerns at the time.

Now we are faced with a dilemma - how to fund the organization that is an established and important part of the economic development tools we offer in Lucas County. The way to attract people and businesses to this area is NOT to make them pay more in taxes for the privilege of coming here or growing here. That point seems to be missed by many who hold elective office in the County and City offices.

Strange that no one is talking about how the size of the organization can be reduced, or how it can work with some of the other economic development entities to reduce its costs of operations - or even if it can perform some of the public sector activities under the original structure before Gerken redesigned it in his own image.

No, such ideas are never discussed or considered - especially by the creators of the problem.

This tax is not business friendly. And it's a bit contradictory that the Commissioners have a Foreclosure Task Force to help people avoid foreclosures on their homes at the same time they're seriously considering raising the cost of actually selling that home. And then there are the housing fund advocates who have, for years, wanted that tax for themselves, saying that the money spent in the county on economic development is enough while the money spent on housing isn't and needs have permanent local funding.

So all the housing fund people are in favor of raising the tax with the caveat that they get some of it. Of course, all the people in favor of raising the tax are the recipients/beneficiaries of the tax - imagine that!

The Toledo Board of Realtors has announced their opposition to the tax, for the reasons stated here - it's just one more nail in the coffin of the county, making one more excuse for someone to go elsewhere.

Personally, I think the Commissioners deserve the struggle they're facing - I told them this would be the outcome, though I hate that I was right.

ASIDE: This is the same warning I issued over the new arena being built - the funding stream was not sufficient to meet the projected costs. The Commissioners recently passed a resolution pledging to cover any shortfall between funding stream and costs, pledging the taxing authority of the Lucas County to the purpose. I'd like to be wrong on that prediction, but I'm not hopeful.

And one final thought: if the Commissioners were really as interested in economic development as they say they are, why did they allow increased tax levies, including a new tax for COSI, to go on the ballot??? Inquiring minds...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bogus 'food stamp challege' is back - with a twist

Yes, it's that time again when various organizations and entities start in with their bogus 'food stamp challenge.'

The idea is to 'challenge' various elected officials and media to live on $23 during a one-week period of time. The $23 is the average supplemental support that families on food stamps get - per person.

I've covered this issue in depth, starting with why the media was blind to the food stamp challenge, what the real goal of the 'challenge' is, what sponsors of the challenge say about it, and my suggestions for a BETTER food stamp challenge.

When this bogus challenge was issued last year, bloggers and media rightly debunked it, showed it as a lobbying effort disguised as outreach and demonstrated how it was possible to live on this amount, even though no one - repeat NO ONE - has to live on this dollar amount a week when they are on food stamps.

So what's a group to do in light of these facts? They add a twist. In light of the undeniable facts, they say you can live on this amount of money, but not healthily.

"Critics of the challenge have said that it does not accurately reflect the amount of money some food stamp recipients receive and that the program is intended to be a supplement, not a family's entire food budget.

As the Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries, pointed out when I agreed to the challenge, the budget makes eating healthy foods very difficult.

"You'll find that in order to fill your stomach you will have to resort to cheap, starchy foods," he warned me. "It won't be a problem getting the volume. It's getting the nutrition.""

So now it's not about being able to live, it's about being able to purchase a healthy diet.

But even that is false. As I demonstrated in my BETTER Food Stamp Challenge, I was able to purchase vegetables and fruit - even Jello - with my $21 (the amount of the challenge last year):

There's nothing special in my purchases, but I was able to get canned vegetables and fruit, plenty of pasta, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tuna fish, and even Jello. And, if I'd had the extra $14.67 that a food stamp recipient would actually have, I would have bought the following:

* whole chicken for $3.86 (good for several meals for one)
* one pound of ground beef for $2.79
* two pork chops for $1.50
* quart of milk for $1.49 (I don't need much)
* 5 bananas for $.88
* one head of lettuce for $.99
* one loaf of bread for $.92
* a dozen eggs for $1.49
* one pound of carrots $.75

...proving that one person can comfortably survive in a healthy way on the amount of food stamps benefits they receive. In fact, I'd have plenty of left-overs to allow me to shop for more fresh fruit, vegetables and cheese the next week. There's just no way that I'd use all of the pasta, mac & cheese, Jello, peanut butter or all-purpose flour/pancake mix in just one week.

And the fact that my purchases in the second week would give me greater flexibility in developing a healthy menu is a point conveniently overlooked in a one-week challenge.

There are three things to remember about this bogus challenge:

1) It's all about getting people to advocate for more money to be spent on handouts. Some will characterize my use of the term 'handout' as mean, inappropriate or something worse. But that's what it is. Taxpayers are paying for recipients to be able to purchase food, despite the fact that many of us already help the poor on our own. This challenge is sponsored by groups who spend a large part of their time advocating for more money for this program. It's a marketing gimmick for a lobbying effort - and it is a disservice to the recipients.

2) When government controls the money you use to purchase your food, they will expand to control what you can buy with that money, making people slaves to the bureaucracy that always knows better than you do. Food stamps can only be used to purchase food items - that makes sense. However, as today's Blade article shows, various groups are putting pressure on government to increase the amount of control over what people buy.

"Dr. Jonathan Shenkin, a pediatric dentist in Bangor, Maine, and president-elect of the Maine Dental Association, recently called for soda pop to be added to the list of items that can't be purchased with food stamps.

"Younger children that have been introduced to soda have a much higher risk of developing tooth decay than children that have not been exposed to soda," said Dr. Shenkin.
He said taxpayers should not have to subsidize poor nutrition "and then pay again for the health care expenses that are associated with it," such as tooth problems and obesity. "Nobody is taking away choice. You have the choice to buy it with your own money," Dr. Shenkin said."


3) Government knows only expansion of a program, and recipients gladly participate in that process. In this instance, what people are getting is never enough. People who are dependent upon the largess of others shouldn't have to be restricted in what they get. No, they should be able to have what others have, without having to work to get it. Sound familiar?

As the Blade reporter wrote:

My colleague, Blade Religion Editor David Yonke, who also participated in the challenge, said he did not experience hunger, but described the week as "a matter of living without options."

He continued, "I couldn't buy name-brand grocery items. I couldn't afford fast food, let alone a restaurant meal. I had to do without a lot of the things I take for granted, like soda pop and coffee and an occasional candy bar."

Will the next expansion be some 'right' of food stamp recipients to have coffee and an occasional candy bar? Are they somehow discriminated against because they can't purchase a fast food meal, so the program has to allow for such luxury?

And rather than tell me what it's like to live during this bogus challenge, I'd like to know what it is these 'participants' have done since then to help address the problem? Do they make a point of spending $10 each time they go to the grocery store to purchase some extra food to drop off to the food bank? Do they donate funds to food banks or other programs that feed the needy? Do they change their behavior? Or do they just write about it and hold press conferences on it - being used as pawns in this marketing gimmick and calling it a day?

If you really want to help people who need such help - do so. With your own funds or time or talents that you have. But don't fall prey to lobbying efforts and then use them as an excuse to take more money from the dwindling supply the rest of us have.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Public charter schools save tax dollars, study shows

The Buckeye Institute has released a study showing public charter schools provide a great value to Ohio's K-12 education system. Report co-authors Matthew Carr and Beth Lear found closing existing public charter schools will result in reduced per pupil spending levels in each of the "Big 8" city school systems. Significant property tax increases would be required to maintain current per student funding levels.

The report examined the financial impact of public charter schools on the finances of nearby traditional public schools. Specifically, it analyzed the implications for taxpayers in each of Ohio's "Big 8" city school systems if the charter school program were discontinued and all students returned to their residentially assigned traditional public schools.

"The public relations war against educational choice by Ohio's government school bureaucracy has often focused on how alternative schools are financed," report co-author Matthew Carr said. "Our research carefully examined claims made regarding public charter school finance and its financial impact on nearby traditional public school districts."

"Public charter schools are not funded by local property tax dollars," co-author Beth Lear added. "This fact is often overlooked by school choice opponents. Our findings should help inform the ongoing educational choice debate."

Perhaps Toledo City Council should read this report prior to making any decisions about the increased zoning requirements they are contemplating. Their proposed regulations claim to provide students with certain amenities like playgrounds and gyms, but in reality make it impossible for such schools to locate in unused existing buildings without extensive and costly renovations. Charter school advocates say this is just another way to inhibit the establishment of such schools, as the local zoning rules are more extensive than state requirements.

Some key points from the study:

The report's major findings include:

* Ohio's public charter schools do not, in any instance, receive funds raised by school district property taxes.

* Public charter schools operate with substantially less revenue per student in each of the "Big 8" city school systems. The largest difference is in Youngstown, where charter schools operate with an average of $7,126 less per student. The smallest difference is in Canton, where charter schools operate with an average of $1,809 less per student.

* Every "Big 8" city school system receives a net gain in revenue, on average, for each student choosing to attend a charter school. The largest gains are in Cincinnati, where each student departing for a charter school provides the district an increase of $4,030. The smallest gains are in Canton, where each student departing for a charter school provides the district an increase of $918.

* The return of public charter students to each "Big 8" city school district would result in a net per pupil loss of revenues for the district. As a result, these districts would face either lower per pupil spending levels or significant property tax increases to maintain current spending levels. The largest tax increase would be required in Youngstown (roughly $3,200 per $100,000 of home valuation). The smallest increase would be required in Akron (roughly $300 per $100,000 of home valuation).

("Big 8" refers to Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown city schools.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quote of the Day

From The Patriot Post:

"It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives." - John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1756

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Governor places director on suspension over records search

Governor Ted Strickland announced he is placing Helen Jones-Kelley, the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, on a one-month unpaid suspension as a result of the report issued by the Inspector General regarding her searches of confidential databases for information on Sam "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher.

He rejected a request from Senate President Bill Harris to fire her for abusing her power and authority.


Ohio Auditor of State Mary Taylor issued the following statement regarding the one-month suspension of Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones Kelley:

"Ohio citizens should have the highest confidence that the private information that state and local government have access to is protected and will not be used for political or other inappropriate purposes. According to the report released today by the Inspector General, this basic and fundamental trust was broken by Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley. We need to restore accountability and transparency in government and send a message to Ohioans that the misuse and abuse of personal information will not be tolerated. Government leaders need to be responsible for the actions of their employees so I urge Governor Strickland, who campaigned on the promise of running an ethical administration, to ask for the resignation or terminate Ms. Jones-Kelley immediately."

Toledo bills campaigns for costs of visits

The City of Toledo has issued bills to the McCain and Obama campaigns for the costs of public services during visits by the candidates and their surrogates.

I asked for further information because the McCain campaign had six visits but got billed nearly $28,000 while the Obama campaign had eight visits and was billed just under $22,000.

This is the response from the Police Department that Jason Webber, the city's public information officer, sent to me:

"The timing of the visit impacted the cost. A weekend visit necessitated more overtime because I have less personnel working that I can draw from for the dignitary protection detail. A weekday visit necessitated little overtime because I had a lot of personnel already scheduled to work. An overnight stay with no speech required less resources than a speaking event. The numbers you were provided represent overtime costs only. They do not include costs associated with on-duty personnel assigned to the detail."

'No legitimate reason' to check Joe the Plumber records, Inspector General decides

Well, duh! We all figured that one out as soon as it was made public....

The report states:

In summary, we determined that ODJFS Director Helen Jones-Kelley’s authorization to search three confidential agency databases for information on Wurzelbacher was improper, and that her use of state email resources to engage in political activity was also improper. We further find an omission on the part of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for failing to prevent a misuse of the OHLEG system by an agency contractor, and a wrongful act with the contractor for using OHLEG to access confidential information about Wurzelbacher.


Director Jones-Kelley’s authorization of the searches done on Wurzelbacher did not satisfy the Ohio Administrative Code requirement that access to ODJFS’ confidential database systems must be related to an “agency function or purpose.” Although the Director indicated that it was agency practice to search ODJFS databases when someone is “thrust quickly into the public spotlight,” we found no policies or procedures to support her.


We determined that Taxation checked its database systems twice on October 16, 2008, and a third time on October 17, 2008, in response to media inquiries about the status of a tax lien against Wurzelbacher. We interviewed Taxation’s Communications Director, John Kohlstrand, who confirmed that he coordinated with the Ohio Attorney’s Office in preparing a response to reporters. Taxpayer records maintained on Taxation’s data system are deemed confidential by statute and the public release of any such information is prohibited. Public information regarding the status of a tax lien may be released by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office after a lien is filed in court. All of the information appearing in the media about Wurzelbacher’s tax lien was consistent with public information released by the OAG and available from the Lucas County Clerk of Courts.

We found that Taxation’s searches were not inappropriate based on criteria established by the agency and the Internal Revenue Service, which govern access to such records by authorized employees. In this case, Taxation officials checked their database to verify whether Wurzelbacher’s tax lien was still valid. We found no evidence that any confidential information was shared with anyone outside the agency.

They also said the Toledo Police Department was conducting its own investigation into the violation of the LEADS system by one of their clerks.

The IG report concludes:

"The justifications she (Dir. Jones-Kelley) offered in support of her decision were not credible, and they included contradictions, ambiguity, and inconsistencies. The information she said she relied on emanated from unreliable sources, such as blogs and hearsay. Therefore, we find that she had no reasonable basis to authorize searches on Wurzelbacher."

Now - will she be disciplined? She's been on paid administrative leave since the investigation began, but not because of this issue - rather, for using her state computer and emails for political purposes.

The report will be sent to the office of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien for review.

The essential toilet

Perhaps unnoticed by many - if not all - people in Northwest Ohio, today is World Toilet Day, promoted by the World Toilet Organization.

(Of course - to have a 'day' you first have to have an organization.)

The WTO also sponsors a World Toilet Summit along with an Expo & Forum to draw attention to good sanitary conditions. From their website:

"Founded in 2001 with 15 members, it now has 151 member organizations in 53 countries working towards eliminating the toilet taboo and delivering sustainable sanitation.

WTO was created as a global network and service platform wherein all toilet and sanitation organizations can learn from one another and leverage on media and global support that in turn can influence governments to promote sound sanitation and public health policies."

They also started the world's first World Toilet College (WTC) providing "training in toilet design, maintenance, School Sanitation and Disaster Sanitation and implementation of Sustainable Sanitation systems."

In many places in the world, sanitation is a critical issue, which is why this is being suggested:

"Speaking at the recent World Toilet Summit in Macau, World Toilet Organisation founder Jack Sims said the concept of the flushing toilet was unsustainable.

Mr Sims said a culture where people flushed their loos but disregarded the thousands of litres of wasted drinking water each year was one of sanitation's greatest challenges."

And, of course, the best solution is a usage tax:

"There have already been calls by Australian experts to reduce the amount of water wasted through toilet flushing with a proposed new toilet tax.

Adelaide University's Water Management Professor Mike Young said the tax would encourage people to take shorter showers, recycle washing machine water or connect rainwater tanks to internal plumbing.

"Some people may go as far as not flushing their toilet as often, as the less sewage you produce the less the rate you pay," Professor Young said."

Under their plan, Australian households would be charged for the amount of water they flushed down the drain. This taxing scheme would replace the current ones in which sewage charges are based solely on a home's value and not its waste water output.

In Toledo, and most places in the U.S., we are charged by volume for both water consumption and sewage treatment, so it looks like we're already doing our part in the effort.

Some interesting toilet facts you never wanted to know:

* The average person spends three years of their life on the toilet.

* Researchers have found that girls really do take longer to go than boys.

* The average person visits the toilet 2,500 times a year - about six to eight times a day.

* The first time there were separate male and female toilets were at a posh party in Paris in 1739.

* What it's called: powder room, lavatory, outhouse, ladies, loo, convenience, washroom, men's room, bathroom, dunny, bog, khazi, gents, garderobe, necessary, women's room, restroom, potty, privy, the smallest room, cloakroom, latrine, place of easement, water closet (WC), john, can, little girls' room, little boys' room, throne room, facilities, head.

* In China there are public toilets for dogs.

* The first toilet cubicle in a public washroom is the least likely to be used: it is also the cleanest.

* Most toilets flush in the key of E flat.

* The average toilet is flushed eight times a day.

Happy World Toilet Day!

My thoughts on the proposed furlough of city employees

Are unpaid furloughs of city employees a good idea? Probably.

Facing a $10 million deficit to close out 2008, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has suggested that non-essential city workers be furloughed the day after Thanksgiving, the day after Christmas and New Year's Eve. I don't believe closing the city on these days will have a negative impact on operations or citizens since most people aren't looking to do business with public entities on those days anyway.

But I have two problems with the plan. One is that it won't address as much of the budget problems as many think and, two, when given a choice between implementing this idea the right way or the wrong way, Carty chose poorly.

First, this is presented as a way to save around $1 million. But the devil is in the details and only $300,000 of those savings would come from the general fund. It's the general fund that's short - not all the other accounts. And since Carty chose poorly in implementing this, it could actually cost the city money.

The city has contracts with its union employees. Regardless of whether or not you like those contracts, whether or not you think those contracts need to be modified, whether or not you like or want public unions, regardless.... the city has signed an agreement and that agreement needs to be honored or changed through the proper methods.

Once you've got an agreement that both sides have ratified, you've agreed upon the terms for laying off people and both sides have an obligation to follow that process. Side agreements can be negotiated, and often are when there are one-time, unique circumstances to be addressed. Carty certainly could have embarked upon that process for this instance, especially considering the budget concerns. He might even have gotten MORE as a result.

But, again, he chose poorly, failing to follow the procedures the city had agreed to and now he finds himself defending his lack of adherence to the contracts in court.

That's where his choice will probably cost taxpayers - in the legal battle that didn't have to happen. Yesterday AFSCME and Teamsters unions filed motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions to keep the city from implementing the furloughs. They took this step because the city didn't follow the contract regarding work schedules and layoffs - and didn't submit the issue to arbitration as the contracts dictate. The unions and city met for several hours with Judge Gene Zmuda, who was assigned to the case, and will be back with judge on Friday. The hope is that they will reach agreement on the matter so court action won't be required. We'll see.

In the meantime, the city continues to spend money it doesn't have to: Erie Street Market subsidies, COSI subsidies of utilities, subscriptions to periodicals...all of which would easily offset the $300,000 projected savings from the layoffs.

It's a matter of priorities - and our elected officials don't have any, otherwise, we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The politics of division

As a Lucas County Commissioner, I was opposed to taking policies and programs from Toledo and Toledo city government and copying them as county programs. I viewed it (rightly so, I believe) as exporting the failed policies of Toledo into the county as a whole.

One of the things I objected to was the expansion of the Toledo Housing Trust Fund into the Toledo-Lucas County Housing Trust Fund. I didn't object to the idea of the organization expanding its services (as an independent organization that was their prerogative), but I did object to the REASON - which was to get more money for what they do, this time from the County.

From a July 19, 2006 Blade article, "Expanded housing fund proposed - Toledo considers including county":

"A proposal presented yesterday to Toledo City Council would expand the Toledo Housing Trust Fund to include Lucas County as a partner - hopefully, a partner with some money to contribute.

A goal of some members of the trust fund board is to get the Lucas County commissioners to increase the county real estate conveyance fee from $3 for every $1,000 of a property's sale price to $4, and use the revenue to promote market-rate housing .

Two members of the county commission yesterday endorsed the creation of a joint fund , but said they haven't agreed to raise the conveyance fee. The third member said she would oppose such an increase."

So far, the organization has expanded, but no increase in the conveyance fee has been approved for this purpose, though the commissioners did, in 2007, give the Housing Trust Fund $50,000.

And, as part of the creation of this new board, they list 'establishing a revenue stream' as one of their priorities. In fact, the revenue was so important that it was listed three times in the Commissioners' resolution.

Yesterday, the Commissioners approved a 'disabilities commission.' According to today's paper,

"County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday for a new 21-member Lucas County Commission on Disabilities to replace the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities, which has 17 seats and was established in 2004 under then-Mayor Jack Ford."

If a commission on disabilities is so important, don't you think that our surrounding cities would have one as well? Or is such a commission just a way for some elected officials to 'show' that they cater to a specific special interest group? And did any of our three commissioners ask any of the other cities, villages and townships if this was something they thought the county should do on their behalf? Or did they just assume that 'county commissioners know best'?

The goals of the newly-formed commission are to "influence public policy, evaluate public programs and provide a greater voice for members of the disabled community." When I was a commissioner, I didn't need a special commission to do this for me - I just asked any of the myriad groups that already exist to service this particular group of people.

And county government really can't create it's own policies since it is, technically, an arm of state government. County government can only do what the Ohio Revised Code dictates, so if this new commission wants a certain policy, it's either something the county is already doing because of state law, or it will need a state law to allow such a policy.

Then there is the whole discussion of why people with disabilities get to have a commission while other 'special interest groups' don't. Will every specialized demographic need their own government-designated commission to speak for them?

I despise the fact that elected officials believe they need to create such commissions in order to tell them what members of certain groups want or need. It removes the responsibility of representation from the elected official and abdicates it to a group named by the same elected officials.

And once such commissions are created, the request for funding inevitably follows, with increased funding year-to-year as a goal.

Additionally, such commissions divide us and our communities - pitting groups against each other for policies and funding - and that's not good for anyone.

Sadly, our current crop of elected officials know only this. They know how to cater to specialized interests with such feel-good actions. And they use such groups in their re-election bids, counting on rewarding them with public dollars and expecting support at the ballot box in return.

Despite all the talk of unity from the Democrats, their actions show they rely upon division. In this 'divide and conquer' approach, they cater to specific interests and make promises to all. And then, when money is tight, like it is now, all those groups find they might not get what was promised and they begin fighting among themselves for what is available, pressuring elected officials to keep their promises. In doing so, they argue against other groups in favor of their own. That's division - not unity.

Unfortunately, elected officials here know it works, which is why we now have a Lucas County Commission on Disabilities.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Plastic bag tax in Toledo?

Sure - why not? If New York is doing it, it must be good for Toledo, too. Right?

That's our mayor! See an idea someone else has and copy it...all as a way to provide more income for an overbloated, wasteful budget.

Here's his letter to city council:

Um...I don't thrown those bags away. I recycle them in those nice new recycling cans provided for by the City. Oh - and I pay a 'garbage' tax for the privilege of doing so...

And weren't those bags supposed to be the green initiative that saved all the trees?

And if we had enough police to enforce the littering laws, we wouldn't have the problem of litter from these bags or anything else... head hurts!

Toledo Bullfrogs

Yep - that's the new name of the Arena Football 2 team that Lucas County wants.

As part of the new arena project, Toledo Arena Sports (basically the same organization as the Mud Hens) plans on hosting an East Coast Hockey League team, the Walleye, and this AF2 franchise.

So that gives us the Mud Hens for baseball, the Walleye for hockey and the Bullfrogs for football ... all in keeping with the 'swamp' theme since we are part of the Great Black Swamp.

(Why is it that our teams are all edible?)

Mayor pleads for the bailout

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner sent out a press release yesterday saying he was going to Washington, DC to help lobby for the automotive bailout.

First, Toledo is facing a $10 million deficit to balance out 2008 - so where is he getting the money to travel to DC?

Second, Toledo has to cut, according to the mayor, $23 million from the 2009 budget - so do we really think that Congress is going to take his advice about what an industry needs to be 'successful'? He can't run a city without going into debt, so do we really think that he knows what the auto makers need to get out of debt?

But he got his name in the news again and he can try to look like he's doing something to 'help.'

Style over substance - which is indicative of his entire term in office.

*** Does anything think he'll also put in a plea to help Toledo, as well? After all, if everyone else is in line for a handout....

Monday, November 17, 2008

A better use for the $700 Billion bailout

A letter requesting the $700 Billion for a better use than bailing out various industries:

November 17, 2008

Mr. Neel Kashkari
Interim Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20220

Dear Secretary Kashkari:

I write today to formally request $700 billion from the TARP Capital Purchase Program. Since unionized auto companies, state and local governments, and certain credit card companies are applying, I thought I should, as well. Attached you will find the two-page application which I downloaded from

I am fully aware that some $125 billion has already been allocated as of October 29, 2008. However, given that the federal government has the full weight of the army, the FBI, etc. behind it, I am confident that you can re-appropriate this money from the likes of Wells Fargo (or their successor companies, if the current over-regulatory and over-taxing economic climate has caused them to go under).

I have a plan for this $700 billion which should be just what’s needed to get the American economy going. Since the money came from the taxpayers in the first place, I propose giving it back to them. With $700 billion in TARP funding, ATR would facilitate the following tax cuts:

· Cut the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 15%, giving us one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the developed world. We currently have the second-highest rate in the world (behind only Japan). This new 15% rate would give us the third-lowest rate in the world (ahead of only Ireland and Iceland). It would put us well below the Euro-zone average rate of 25%. Companies would be dying to set up shop in the United States. Estimated JCT cost: $170 billion[1]

· Eliminate the capital gains and dividends tax. These rates are currently 15%, but actually represent a double-tax on corporate profits. When combined with the new, lower 15% rate on corporate income, capital costs would be at their lowest levels in nearly a century. Tax something less, and get more of it. This would also be an improvement over a suggested change we have made to the Treasury for years—allow taxpayers to index the cost basis of their capital assets to inflation (something which Treasury has the unilateral authority to do and which would be the equivalent of a 50% cut in the capital gains tax rate). Estimated JCT cost: $35 billion[2]

· Cut the top personal income tax rate from 35% to a flat 15%. This would give the U.S. the lowest personal income tax rate in the developed world. Estimated JCT score: $235 billion[3]

· Kill the death tax. Almost nothing is more capital-killing for small businesses and family farms than the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes. Estimated JCT score: $24 billion[4]

· Allow companies to fully-expense capital assets purchased the first year. Under current law, businesses and other taxpayers must usually “depreciate,” or slowly-deduct, capital asset purchases the first year. This capital-boosting proposal would allow taxpayers to deduct 100% of the purchase price from their taxes in year one. Estimated JCT score: $240 billion [5]

Put all that together, and you arrive at almost exactly $700 billion. It’s safe to say that allocating $700 billion this year toward these tax reduction goals would do much for economic growth. But there’s more that can be done that doesn’t require any more resources:

· Ensure that there is full transparency in the TARP program by putting every TARP transaction and contract online for everyone to see. Disclose potential conflicts of interest with TARP-oversight staff.

· Allow companies to repatriate foreign profits to the U.S. without having to pay a double tax. The last time Congress allowed this in 2005, over $300 billion was repatriated, boosting GDP 2%.

I look forward to receiving the money. Please consult my staff for any ACH transfer information your people may need.


Grover Norquist


Now THAT's an idea!

Quote of the day & the perversion of economic development

From the Foundation for Economic Education:

"The sun would still rise in a world without General Motors."

The Perversion of Economic Development
By Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. Reed, economist and author, is President of The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market research and educational organization headquartered in Midland, Michigan.

In a country known for having forged the world's highest living standard from what was wilderness scarcely 200 years ago, one would think that “economic development” is a well-understood concept. Unfortunately, it isn't.

In recent decades, economic development has come to mean something other than the spontaneous, entrepreneurial phenomenon that built America. It is often thought of as a kind of activist, public-policy responsibility of state and local governments. It rarely is defined as a “fair field and no favor” approach in which governments keep themselves unobtrusive and inexpensive so as to give wide berth to free markets. Instead, economic development conjures up notions of bureaucracies and commissions directing resources, subsidizing specific firms, granting special tax breaks to some and not to others, and erecting a vast network of regulatory incentives and disincentives to affect behavior in the economy.

In short, economic development has come to mean what many statists and central-planning types are fond of calling “industrial policy.” They think the marketplace lacks direction and needs the assistance of officialdom. With tax dollars in hand to bestow upon the favored few, bureaucrats claim new prophetical powers of distinguishing the winners from the losers in the marketplace.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The good and the bad in Toledo's 2009 budget proposal

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner delivered a balanced budget proposal to Toledo City Council members last night, as he was required to do by law. It's a very lean budget with some good and some bad ideas.

Below is the information provided to City Council, with my notes following. Please note that some of the figures I reference are projections because the City has not yet closed out its 2008 accounts, so the final figures are not available.

Revenue Assumptions:
• Income Taxes are estimated to decline in 2009 approximately 2.09%, or $3,603,078 from the 2008 estimate, reflecting 2007 levels.

In 2008, Incomes Taxes were estimated to be 2.5% more than in 2007. Interestingly, 2007 estimates were 2.6% higher than in 2006. The problem is in current collections. According to the October Finance Committee report, as of September 2008, overall tax revenue to the city was down "nearly 6% from 2007." The only way to tell if this is a good projection would be to compare it to the 2007 final amounts.

• Property Taxes are estimated at $18.6 million for 2009. This is a decrease of about $200K. This decrease is due to a decline in property values and a rise in the number of delinquencies.

According to the spreadsheet the administration provided to council in October, the 2008 budget for Property Taxes was actually $19.1 million - not $18.8 million as indicated in this statement. Additionally, the revenue from this category is down - 11% as of the end of August - so this revenue line item may be higher than can actually be expected.

• Estate Taxes are projected at $4.0 million in 2009.

2008 Property Taxes were estimated at $5.6 million. 2007 income in this category was projected to be $4.4 million, so this appears to be a realistic budget amount.

• Local Government Funds are provided for at $17.9 million in 2009, the same as provided for in 2008.

If state tax revenues and income continue to decline, is it realistic to expect that we will have the same level of disbursement from the LGFs in 2009, or should we budget for LESS than we received in 2008?

• General Fund Interest Income is estimated to yield $2.5 million in 2009, an increase of $200K over 2008’s budgeted amount but equal to anticipated 2008 actual revenue. Interest yield for 2009 is expected to be consistent with what we are experiencing in 2008.

As interest rates decrease, is it reasonable to expect the same yield as 2008? And if we have less income and less funds on which to earn interest, is this truly an accurate budget projection?

• Red Light Camera revenue is provided for at $2.584 million for 2009. While this is the same as for 2008 it reflects an increase over actual collections for 2008.

So what makes the city think that it's going to have INCREASED collections from these cameras in 2009? Every study - even from the camera companies themselves - show that income/revenue from the cameras decreases over time. So far, in 2008, red light/speed camera revenue is $750,000 less than expected. What evidence does the city present to document why they think they'll have 30% more income in this line item? Do they plan to add more of these cameras to get to that point? And what will happen if residents, like those in Cincinnati, pass a charter amendment to prohibit the cameras? These are the contingencies the city should think about and build into their budget projections.

• Refuse Collection Fees are projected at $4.7 million for 2009.

First, this is less money than what they budgeted in 2008, which counted on a 90% collection rate. What is the current collection rate and is it consistent with this much revenue?

Also, the city is currently in a lawsuit over the legality of this fee. What happens if they lose and the court determines this is actually a tax and not a fee? Not only will the revenue not be there, but the city may be forced to repay all it has collected. That contingency is not accounted for. Additionally, if the budget for trash collection is actually reduced, as planned, then the 'justification' for the additional fee - to fund the department - is no longer valid, thus increasing the likelihood that a court will see this 'fee' as a general revenue fund 'tax.' Now, the city may be confident in its position on the lawsuit, but ... what if???

• Cable Vision revenue is budgeted at $2.9 million for 2009. This is an increase of $260K, which is predicated on an increase in the franchise fee from 4.5% to 5% effective January 1, 2009.

• The Revenue Estimate assumes the transfer of $2 million from the Economic Stabilization Reserve in 2009.

I couldn't find an 'economic stabilization reserve' listed in previous budgets. So if this is the new name for the 'rainy day fund,' I'm not sure there will be anything left in that account after the city balances it 2008 budget. If it's not the 'rainy day fund,' then what is this fund supposed to do and why is it acceptable to use it for a purpose other than intended?

Budget Assumptions:

There are a lot of good things in the expense assumptions: no pay increases, elimination of vacant positions, increases in health insurance co-premiums, using grants instead of the general fund - for demolishing homes, elimination of tuition reimbursements, and some savings as a result of fully automating the garbage pickup and switching to one-man instead of three-man crews.

However, there are some not-so-good things in the expenses as well: a planned four-day shutdown may not be possible, considering the legal challenge being mounted by the unions; there are no police or fire classes, despite planned retirements; gasoline costs have gone down in the past two months and while this is a very unstable commodity, projecting costs in this area is very difficult; and the expectation that they will be able to balance the 2008 budget with no negative carryovers, despite a projected $10 million deficit.

The assumptions:

• Staffing for 2009 was based on the elimination of all vacant funded positions as of October 28, 2008. The only exception to this rule is vacant Communication Personnel positions in the Police Department.
• Labor rates were frozen for 2009 consistent with the expired bargaining agreements. Local 20 was increased by 3% as a result of the arbitration agreement for 2009.
• Overtime increased by $1.9 million excluding fringes for the General Fund in 2009. This change from 2008 was specifically within three areas: Police, Fire and Solid Waste. Police was reduced as a result of the closing of the NorthWest Station; Solid Waste was reduced as a result of the implementation of the Solid Waste Plan as described elsewhere. An increase in Fire was the result to fully provide for minimum manning in 2009.
• Severance is based on the 2008 estimate; Police & Fire changes were developed by Public Safety to reflect the potential impact of the DROP program in 2009.
• The 2009 Budget assumes pension pickups as appropriate by bargaining unit as follows: Local 7, Police, and Fire at 10%; 2058 and classified exempt at 8.5%; Local 20 at 8%, and unclassified exempt at 5%.
• Workers’ compensation is assumed at 5.3% (valued at $8.1 million) and fully provides for the 2009 Budget for the Workers Compensation plan including accrual of Incurred but Not Reported claims (IBNR) for 2009.
• Medical Budget increases are $540K (excluding co-premiums) greater in the General Fund for 2009 over 2008, and $1.75 million greater overall (including co-premiums as noted below).
• Medical co-premiums were also built into this amount (as a reduction) on the following basis: a full year for unclassified employees and Local 2058; a February 1, 2009 implementation for Local 7, and an October 1, 2009 implementation for classified exempt employees and Police.
• The City Obligation for debt on the Downtown Housing Projects is provided for at $978k for 2009.
• The Tax Transfer to CIP at 22% net of Tax Administration is estimated at $37.2 million in 2009.
• The Debt Budget is derived from the 2008 Book of Bonded Indebtedness for the 2009 budget. It also reflects changes anticipated in 2009.
• The 2009 Demolition program reflects a redirection of budget from 2008. Grants will provide for demolitions previously performed by the General Fund. Streets, Bridges, and Harbor will continue to perform these demolitions. It anticipates an overall reduction of demolitions in 2009 of 100 units.
• Downtown Employment Incentive Program (DEIP) amounts were provided by the Department of Economic Development at $593K for the year 2009.
• Layoffs are built into the 2009 General Fund Budget. It provides for four one-day layoffs for all non-essential personnel in 2009.
• There is no provision for Police or Fire classes in 2009.
• Utility Increases provided on the advice of the Department of Public Utilities Division of Utility Administration were as follows: Electricity @ 12% per annum or $392k over 2008; Gas @ 15% per annum or $166k over 2008; Water @ 5% per annum or $9k over 2008; Sewer @ 10% per annum or $40k over 2008; and Storm Sewer @ 25% per annum.
• Municipal Garage Costs were assumed to rise by $1.3 million in 2009, even after a 10% cutback as a part of a deficit reduction plan due to the significant increases in the cost of fuel, parts, and labor they have provided for in their 2009 proposed budget.
• Facilities Budget in 2009 is relatively flat due to an approximate 10% cut as a part of the same deficit reduction plan mentioned above.
• ICT and Printshop charges were reduced by approximately $175k, also as a result of the deficit reduction plan.
• Risk Management Fund Budget was increased by $333k over 2008.
• The Solid Waste Budget assumes the commencement of implementation of full automation in 2009 including the implementation of the “Columbus Plan” in January 2009. It also assumes the beginning of the deployment of the automated packers in September 2009, with the appropriate personnel and other changes necessary under the circumstances. (This is primarily the elimination of the current three person crews with simply a driver).
• The CJCC (NORIS) Budget was $1.58 million for 2008 and is being increased by $270k in 2009.
• The 2009 Proposed Budget assumes the following as related to Criminal Justice: Courtroom Security with no change in operation is provided at $1.9 million; the Jail contract with the County at $1.3 million; Work Release at $580k; no provision for Public Defender or Hospital Services (as a part of the contract to be signed with the County for the above mentioned Jail Contract); Pretrial Services at $787k; and Pretrial Detention at $1.29 million.
• The City is advising CCNO that in 2009 it will no longer pay for overutilization of beds for prisoners. This, in conjunction with the assumption that credits from them will remain relatively unchanged from 2007-8, will provide for a reduction of approximately $500k in 2009’s budget.
• The 2009 Proposed Budget reflects the first year of a five (5) year chargeback of the bonded portion of the SAP-ERP or $1.322 million for 2009 from the General Fund. The total cost to be recaptured for the bonded portion of the project is estimated at $11.5 million. However, as a part of the deficit reduction plan, reimbursement to the CIP for the implementation of the ERP in 2009, originally estimated at $1.3 million, has been deferred.
• The 2009 Proposed Budget eliminates all funding for Swimming Pools and the T.O.R.C.H. program.
• Both the Clerk of Courts and the Municipal Court are being requested by the Administration to reduce their budgets in 2009 by 5%. The proposed budget reflects the effect of this change at $309k and $429k respectively.
• As a part of the deficit reduction plan all tuition reimbursement has been eliminated in the General Fund for 2009.
• A layoff is programmed into the 2009 Proposed Budget to reduce personnel costs, net of estimated unemployment by $2.54 million.

What's missing:

Despite some steps in the right direction, it appears from the preliminary information that no departments have been eliminated. The cuts are pretty much across the board without determining priorities for service and whether or not some of the existing services should be eliminated in favor of adequate/proper funding for mandated services.

And many of the questions I asked about the 2008 budget are still valid - and unanswered - including the impact of NOT making the planned changes as of the first of the year.

I hope, when budget hearings are held, we'll get much more interest in them than we have in the past, and that it won't be special interests lobbying for their particular line item.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Denial is part of the problem

According to an interview in the Wall Street Journal, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said neither unions nor management are to blame for the current condition of the Big 3 automakers.

"This industry is in a crisis situation not of its own making," he said.


So I supposed that every employee being paid to NOT work (job bank) is not a drain on resources? And huge compensation packages for management don't contribute to the losses? And wages higher than your competitors don't escalate the price of the vehicles beyond what people want to pay? No...those things are irrelevant when you're in denial about your own culpability.

As I've previously reported, General Motors has lost $57 billion since 2005. Ford has lost $24.5 billion since 2006. Despite Gettelfinger's claims, high gas prices and the Wall Street meltdown don't account for losses that go back that far.

So what's going one here? Well, when faced with possible bankruptcy of one of the auto companies, the UAW "is joining forces with the companies in a blitzkrieg public campaign to plead for a federal bail out. Although Mr. Gettelfinger rarely talks to the media aside from local radio stations in Detroit, he has reached out over the weekend to make the union's viewpoint clear."

Of course! We'll join together with our hands out to beg for tax dollars to save us from our mistakes. And we'll deny that we've made any mistakes, blaming everyone but ourselves in order to make it easier for Congress to give us someone else's money.

And what will the union do to help their employers avoid the potential dire consequences? Nothing.

"The union will not make concessions in order to seal a deal for governmental aid, Mr. Gettelfinger said.
"It's unfair for people to single out auto workers," he said."

Don't expect us to do anything other than put pressure on Congress to give us money so we can continue doing all the things that brought us to this point in the first place.

Great thinking! And reason only to say NO to the bailout!!!

Automotive bailout does not represent the 'future'

I've struggled with the issue of the automotive bailout currently being debated.

On the principled side, I oppose the government action. On the compassion side, I have empathy for the individuals and families affected by the problems.

There is plenty of blame for the current situation from the individuals demanding unsustainable wages and benefits all the way up to the CEOs, who made the bad decisions over the last decade, and Congress, who is more interested in placating special interests than in protecting all the rest of us who foot the bills.

I think this column by Michael Barone makes some good points, so I wanted to share it with you.

Toledo must fund it's municipal court, Appeals Court rules

As I said almost a year ago:

" law in Ohio is strongly on the side of the Judges and Clerk to determine their budget and to require the local municipalities to fund their budget.
But here's the kicker - that council and the mayor would be wise to remember: In determining the budget for the Clerk and Judges, the burden of proof is not with the Judges and Clerk. It is with the municipality - and the municipality, in denying the budgetary requests of these two entities, must prove that such budgets are 'unreasonable.' And that's a pretty high burden of proof for the city to undertake...especially when courts have ruled that the financial condition of the city is not an excuse for not funding the 'reasonable' requests of the Clerk and Court."

And as a result of the most recent ruling from the 6th District Court of Appeals, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner now knows this. Whether or not he chooses to admit it, though, is another thing entirely.

"In the decision, the appellate judges said: "The Court's judges are in the best position to know how many officers are needed to effectively secure courtrooms and the courthouse, whether such officers should be full-time or part-time employees, and which agency would best be able to provide qualified officers."

Although acknowledging a court's "power to demand funding from a legislative authority is not without limits," the appellate judges said the city has a duty to fund "suitable Municipal Court facilities.

"We are not unmindful of the city's concern about budgetary funding. … Nevertheless, [the city] does not claim [the judges'] cost proposal for 2008 or 2009 are facially groundless or unreasonable," the appellate judges said. "Instead, the city appears to have merely reduced the court security budget as part of an 'across-the-board' cut in overall expenses, and expected the court to accommodate the reduction by lowering security levels.""

So Toledo has to provide the funds requested by the Court for 2008, despite looking at a $10 million shortfall to close out the year. And it will have to do so for 2009, as well, even as the city struggles with a projected $23 million deficit.

Is this enough to get the mayor and city council focusing on priorities and mandated functions? Will this order for funding cause them to start cutting non-essential activities? Or will they 'spread the pain' so they don't upset particular interest groups?

The budget is due out today, so we'll know shortly. And then the people can speak.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Voinovich says he'll support auto bailout

I read an Associated Press article that claimed Sen. George Voinovich was the only Republican confirmed to support the proposed bailout of the automotive industry.

So I called his office to ask if it was true and the staff person who answered told me it was.

I, of course, expressed my opinion and urged him to vote NO on this - and any other bailouts.

But the only way he can be pushed to vote no is if he gets enough calls and emails instructing him to do so. He works for us, after all.

So, here is the contact information. Let him know what you think! (remember, be firm but polite...)

Washington office: (202) 224-3353
Toledo office: Phone: (419) 259-3895 Fax: (419) 259-3899
Cleveland office: Phone: (216) 522-7095 Fax: (216) 522-7097
Cincinnati office: Phone: (513) 684-3265 Fax: (513) 684-3269
Columbus office: Phone: (614) 469-6697 Fax: (614) 469-7733
Southeast office: Phone: (740) 441-6410 Fax: (740) 753-3551

His contact form

Matt at Weapons of Mass Discussion has more on this.

Priorities, not special interests

For the 2008-09 fiscal year, Ohio will spend $21.9 million on the Ohio Arts Council. That's down from their original biennial budget of $24.9 million, as a result of the state's budgetary issues.

In case you've never heard of the OAC, they are "a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally and economically. With funds from the Ohio Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, the OAC provides financial assistance to artists and arts organizations."

Some of the local recipients of funding from the OAC include the Young Artists at Work program through the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, small amounts to Bravo Magazine, and college professors/instructors who've received fellowships (usually $5,000 or $10,000). They have provided operational support to the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Opera Association, the Toledo Orchestra Association, Inc., Toledo Ballet, Toledo Jazz Society, Toledo Botanical Garden and the Arts Council Lake Erie West. Money from OAC has also supported performing arts seasons at Lourdes College and Toledo Cultural Arts Center.

I have always had a problem with government funding of 'the arts.' I don't believe that government should fund any particular industry and the arts are certainly a particular industry. My basic premise is that individuals who so choose would fund arts - and probably be more capable of doing so if the government didn't take so much of their personal funds in the first place. Additionally, as with anything governments do, the bureaucracy established to 'administer' any dedicated funds takes its own percentage off the top, resulting in less funds than what individuals could provide without the third-party costs of government.

But - that's really not the point of this post. My point is priorities. Even if you believe government funding of the arts should be done, is it the most important thing government should do – and at the expense of other government spending?

In January of this year, Governor Ted Strickland announced $733 million in budget cuts due to the economic condition of the state. One of the biggest budget reductions was $31 million from the Department of Mental Health. Could the state have eliminated the OAC and, instead, funded the Department of Mental Health? Yes.

Another cut was to the Department of Aging which was to lose $17.9 million in FY 2008. Could the state have eliminated the OAC and, instead, funded the Department of Aging? Yes - and with some money left over.

What about the $25.8 million that was earmarked for the state Department of Development? Such funding is key to Ohio's chances of attracting and retaining businesses and their jobs, politicians tell us. What would have been a better use of limited tax dollars: attracting new businesses or subsidizing 'starving artists'?

Instead of going through the state organization and eliminating unnecessary or non-mandated functions, departments had across-the-board cuts. As a result, everyone was equally unhappy, but the size and scope of government was not really reduced. The hard part of governance is setting priorities and sticking with them. Every organization that receives funding through the OAC will lobby for continued funding. Everyone who gets funds will say 'don't cut us.' But politicians and decision-makers rarely ask: if we don't cut you, who should we cut? And if they do, the response is almost always: don't ask me - that's your job.

Well, if that's the case, then go through and eliminate the non-mandated expenditures. It's actually a very easy criterion to meet, but often so very hard to get politicians to do because they don't want to risk alienating any group of constituents who might decide to oppose them in their next re-election bid.

The City of Toledo is facing the same circumstance. We had city council members insist on funding the city's Youth Commission ($2 million in 2008) and pools (about $500,000). Council is now faced with a $10 million budget deficit to address before the end of the year, including a reduction in the number of recruits in the new police class.

So what is more important: pools and 'hip hop' concerts or police officers?

I pick police every time - and I think most people would, considering that, without police, pools and concerts might not be safe places to be.

And that's the point: priorities. we don't have good ones when it comes to government spending. What we have is the priority of elected officials to try and placate everyone so as not to make enemies, thus ensuring they continue to have support for staying in office. These elected officials stop representing us when their priority is such as this - and we are to blame, because we reward them with re-election while our city and state continue their slide to the bottom in terms of growth, population, employers and jobs.

So - what do you think our priorities should be? And what are you willing to do to ensure the politicians support them?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facts DO matter and double standards don't make good arguments

Today's Toledo Blade editorial says that a bailout for the auto industry is vital, critical, necessary to avoid extinction, blah, blah, blah... It's the same story coming from everyone who wants a handout of tax dollars to save them from the bad financial decisions they've made, whether it be financial companies, mortgage companies, homeowners or, now, automotive manufacturers.

America has lost automobile companies in the past, so the first question I would ask now is why shouldn't we expect that we will have a change in the automobile companies in the future? Just like global warming alarmists - they assume that the current conditions are the best, and any 'change' will be catastrophic. Perhaps we should remind all of them that their trust in President-elect Barack Obama was that 'change' would be for the good!

But the biggest problem in their editorial is the lack of FACTS - or, rather, the blatant disregard of them in order to support their premise.

"The American auto industry has doubtless made many mistakes in the past, but in recent years has done an admirable job getting its act together. General Motors' current cash flow woes come as a result of no fault of its own. America's once-proud corporation is a victim of the Wall Street panic and the crippling credit crunch, which means consumers cannot get loans to buy vehicles."

As I've previously reported, GM has lost $57 billion since 2005. Ford has lost $24.5 billion since 2006.

Note the dates? There was no credit crunch in 2005 or 2006 nor for most of 2007. So how can the current cash flow woes of GM be 'no fault of its own'? The Blade editorial does not explain this, presumably because addressing these facts would not allow them to place the blame on someone other than the auto companies themselves. And if their problems are not their fault, they don't have to do anything to solve them.

And then there is the double standard.

In 2006, The Blade went through its own financial struggles (though rumors persist that they are still in difficulties). Their solution was to insist on cuts in wages, benefits and even employees. They publicly stated at the time that companies, in order to survive, have to make a profit and that their employee costs have to be such that a profit is possible.

They were right. But while they made such decisions for their own operations, they don't seem to expect that other companies will make similar tough decisions - at least, not when the government can save them from the difficulty of doing so.

So why the double standard? Why is The Blade so keen on giving our tax dollars to the automobile industry instead of insisting that the automakers renegotiate their union contracts as The Blade did?

It's certainly puzzling - and I don't have the answer, but I can speculate.

I think it has to do with politics - imagine that!

The Blade 'loves' the President-elect, so if Obama thinks something must be done, they are highly likely to agree.

Obama and the Democrats are tied so closely to the unions, especially the UAW, that they are falling all over themselves to preserve both those jobs and the pensions. One of the options being considered is this:

"Help Detroit carmakers with health and pension obligations. Under the most controversial idea being floated, the firms would get $25 billion to help pay the rising costs associated with 780,000 retired autoworkers and their families. The United Auto Workers is pushing this idea. The generous health and pension provisions that the UAW won when Detroit was flush are now a big part of what makes them uncompetitive against foreign rivals who don't give their workers such expensive benefits."

So here are the facts:

* The auto makers have been suffering losses since 2005. While their existing financial situation may have been compounded by the credit crunch, it only hastened the inevitable.

* Generous health and pension provisions for their UAW members are a major component of their costs, which make them uncompetitive.

* While some are calling for less remuneration to executives, no one is calling for major revisions to their union contracts, which would have an immediate impact on their bottom line.

But The Blade seems to think that Obama will save us all.

"President Bush should take the lead of President-elect Barack Obama and speed immediate emergency legislation that will enable General Motors, and Ford and Chrysler as well, to survive, at least until a coherent strategy can be agreed upon for our nation's automotive future.

Waiting till the new administration takes over on Jan. 20 would be too late,..."

Um...since when was it anyone's responsibility - other than the car makers - to develop a 'coherent strategy' for their future? I don't seem to recall anywhere in the Constitution where 'saving specific companies' is listed as part of the duties of the federal government.

I could go through this editorial line by line and provide a comprehensive, logical and factual rebuttal, but when their entire premise - that this problem is not because of decisions made by the automakers, themselves - is wrong, their conclusions are also wrong.

That's why fact matter. If you ignore critical facts when facing an issue, you will inevitably end up with 'solutions' that don't actually solve the problem - and, in some cases, make things even worse.

So here's a question: what would be so bad about a 'Big 2'?
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