Monday, March 31, 2008

Is new tax to blame for dip in hotel occupancy rates?

According to today's Blade, hotel occupancy rates in Lucas County declined last year.

"Smith Travel Research Inc., a private firm in Hendersonville, Tenn., that tracks hotels in major cities nationwide, estimates that six hotels have opened in Lucas, Wood, and Fulton counties since 2002. That doesn’t include the new batch, at least two of which are already operating.

On an average night, about half of hotel rooms in Lucas, Wood, and Fulton counties are filled. But occupancy rates slipped last year to 53 percent from 55 percent in 2006, the Tennessee firm said. The decline was the first in four years.

Through Feb. 29, occupancy was 40 percent, down 4 percent from 2007. Winter months are typically not strong for local hoteliers, however."

In 2007, the Lucas County Commissioners increased the hotel/motel tax two percentage points, bringing Lucas County to a combined tax rate of 16.75%, which makes this tax the fourth highest in the country. Contrast that with Perrysburg, in Wood County and only 10 minutes from downtown Toledo, which has a tax rate of 9.5%.

Our additional 2% tax is supposed to generate $43 million - enough to pay for bonds to fund half of the original projected $82 million cost of the new arena. (The currently projected cost of the arena is now around the $100 million mark with no identified additional sources of funding.)

In August of 2006, I examined the recommended sources of funding for the arena, including the impact of an additional 2% on the hotel/motel tax. I wrote:

"I don't know that Lucas County can afford to increase our taxes (especially ones paid by visitors) and not have any negative consequences of doing so. ... So even if Lucas County does increase the lodging tax, we need to balance the projected increases from the increased tax against the estimated reduction in room rentals likely to occur from an increased price.

And the whole purpose of a lodging tax is to help put "heads in beds." I've not seen anything in the report to indicate that such a tax will actually put more "heads in beds.""

While there is no empirical evidence to suggest that the additional tax is the sole cause of the decline, I cannot help but believe it is a factor. Combined with the increased gas prices, increases in other costs and general concern about the economy, those who do travel are more aware of ancillary fees and taxes associated with various prices they pay. Saving 7.25% per night on your hotel bill makes a difference and there will be some (maybe many) who will choose a location in Perrysburg in order to achieve such savings.

While the County's hotel/motel tax brought in $5.1 million last year, that was the total amount collected, less than $1 million of which was dedicated to the arena costs. The additional 2% needs to generate more than $1.4 million each year in order to cover the principle for the arena bonds - and that doesn't include the interest on those bonds. In the only arena budget made public, no accommodation was made for what has obviously happened: an increase in price reduced consumption, calling into question the ability of the tax to fund the planned costs.

In October, 2007, Commissioner Pete Gerken said, "I don't want to get tied down with a specific price and wind up getting shortchanged. We know what our base budget is, so as we go beyond that, the arena has to pay for itself."

In the same article, The Blade reported:

"The commissioners are banking on a 2 percent bump in the county's hotel-motel tax to generate between $45 million and $50 million and act as the only contribution of taxpayer dollars to the project. The rest of the arena is to be paid through revenue streams created by naming rights, suite sales, and corporate sponsorship."

(Please note that the amount the hotel/motel tax is supposed to generate has somehow increased from $43 million to somewhere between $45-50 million. What accounts for this increase?)

Commissioner Ben Konop said, "We have a plan in place with the hotel-motel tax, and it is generating a steady flow of revenue. But I'm only in favor of increasing the price if it can be proven to me that the added expenses can be paid for with added revenues."

Two commissioners are on record, in this article and in other media, as saying that the arena has to pay for itself. But the construction is ongoing with over $30 million in contracts already issued. The original financing plan had many challenges in terms of actually achieving the targeted revenue amounts. The price has gone up around $20-25 million and there has been no explanation of where the commissioners will find the extra funds.

I again call on our Lucas County Commissioners to share with the public the revised budget and funding/financing plan for this new arena.

If you agree, write them an email or give them a call and ask them where the financing plan for the arena is and where, exactly, they plan to get the money to cover the increased costs of this project.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak:
Pete Gerken:
Ben Konop:
Phone number: 419-213-4500

And if you're a bit cynical about the commissioners keeping their promise not to use other tax dollars for this project, you can enter my Arena Contest and predict when you think they'll tell us that more tax dollars are necessary.

Chuck Muth's take on Samsphere 2008

from his News & Views email:


The Sam Adams Alliance - and no, it's not a beer-drinking club, though everyone I met there seems to favor the brew - hosted a conference this weekend in Chicago for about 50 of the nation's leading conservative/libertarian bloggers to share information and tips, as well as overall "strategery" for the remainder of this presidential election cycle.

While bloggers were encouraged to blog about this bloggers confab, we all agreed not to reveal the details of exactly what was discussed. But I CAN disclose that a proposal to hack into NORAD and take complete control of our nation's nuclear missile arsenal and then use its computer system to play tic-tac-toe (hey, that could be a movie!) was voted down by a narrow 21-19 split decision.


Seriously though, I got to meet some of the most talented Internet activists and right-thinking writers in the nation today. It was truly an honor to be included in this group, many of whom are doing extraordinary things in their home states. The Left may have the Daily Kos and, but the Right now has a stable of Internet warriors fully prepared to wage intellectual war with them this campaign season.

Many of you are probably already familiar with Eric Erickson's Red State blog. If not, check it out. And then check out the Sam Adam Alliance website. Both are relatively new but are already major players in the conservative movement. I only hope I can keep up with them.

All Samsphere bloggers are linked in the left-hand column and I encourage you to visit them often. They will be providing a 'blog role' of these bloggers in the near future and I will add that as soon as it is available.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Judgepedia and more from Samsphere

If you've ever wanted a one-stop location for learning about judges and the judicial campaigns, there's a new website you can use.

Judgepedia, which I learned about today during Samsphere, is a site that aims to bring sunshine to court rulings and the judges who make them...

"Judgepedia is an online encyclopedia that strives to be a consummate source for authoritative articles, open and respectful discourse, and reputable research for all things judicial. Because Judgepedia works like any other Wiki, we encourage the contribution and discussion of anyone who wishes to speak honestly about the role of the judiciary in America. Your support and collaboration are enthusiastically encouraged."

Each state will have a portal so those of us in Ohio can have easy access to our judiciary and their decisions. As it's a wiki, and one that's just getting started, Ohio's portal isn't yet up...but you can add it.

In other news...

Chuck Muth, who blogs at Muths Truths, was the luncheon speaker focusing on how 'new media' can influence local politics. One piece of advice that I intend to follow from now on is to encourage readers to contact local elected officials about issues - and to include all the contact information in the post.

(yes - I knew this was helpful but just hadn't done it)

So, whenever I blog about issues, I will include email addresses and phone numbers so you can contact the elected official responsible and communicate your thoughts directly to them. Hopefully, this will make it easier for you to share your thoughts about decisions that will impact you.

And I was impressed with Chuck's talk because he didn't learn of the title until about 10 minutes before he was scheduled to he quickly put together some points and gave an informative and relevant speech. Afterward, he said that kind of thing is easy when you've been doing this sort of stuff for as long as he has. LOL!

John Fund at Samsphere

While I read John Fund's Wall Street Journal column on a regular basis, I'd never seen a photo of him or met him in person - until last night. And he's younger than I thought.

He was the guest speaker for Samsphere 2008 in Chicago last night.

Here are some of his 'words of wisdom':

* Conservatives find themselves in a dilemma as we are badly served by some party leaders who have debased the core principles which got them elected and, in doing so, have alienated the conservative base. Each of us who call ourselves conservatives bear the consequences.

* While conservatives should maintain our intellectual independence and philosophical integrity, we must realize that the way to promote corresponding policies is to win elections. That doesn't mean sacrificing core principles but it does mean building coalitions, focusing on the many things we have in common with others rather than the few differences we may have on specific issues. We need 50% plus one if conservative policies are to be put into place.

* Fund believes (as do many) in the concept of American exceptionalism. America - unlike any other country - is founded upon the principles of liberty and, even with all the changes throughout our history, the country and the common sense voter understands this and will lean toward principles of freedom, liberty, individual responsibility and less government intrusion. When voters are given a clear ideological contrast between choices for president, they will choose the conservative principles of freedom.

* The "left" knows this and so engages in a new strategy: to win the election without having one. Fund presents the idea of early voting and 'depressing the voter' as two aspects of that strategy. The constant inundation of polls and foregone conclusions in the election tends to depress the voter into not caring about anything except, perhaps, the personalities of the candidates. By the time the election rolls around, people are so depressed, they either don't vote or vote based upon who offended or annoyed them the least.

The country doesn't naturally vote with the 'left' and they know this. So, the way to win the battle under these circumstances is to not fight it, but to get their enemy to surrender before it even begins.

He also presents the idea that early voting is designed to 'avoid the contest' by getting people to vote prior to the debates on the issues. Since 1944, (that's 64 years!) democrats have won the popular vote in the country only once and that was in 1964. Even President Jimmy Carter won only 50% of the vote, failing to get that 'plus one.' In most of these races, the Democrat was ahead in the polls, but the final debates swung the vote. But if you've already voted prior to those final debates, when most people are just beginning to pay attention???

* Fund also had kind words about Pres. Ronald Reagan who said that Pres. Carter ran as a moderate but would govern as a liberal - because his base won't let him do anything but. And Reagan was right. We've seen a more recent example with the 2006 Congress, many of whom ran as moderates but are voting as the liberals they are.

* He mentioned the economy, too. Since the Reagan tax cuts, the U.S. economy has seen growth in 95% of the last 100 quarters (two and now possibly a third recession being the exceptions). Things have been good and many younger people today have no recollection or teaching about the failed policies of the left that gave us inflation, gas lines, etc.

* Referencing Reagan again, he said the former president's points are as valid today as they were then. The choice is not a horizontal line between left and right, but rather a choice on a vertical line upward to freedom or down to totalitarianism. And in response to a question from the audience about 'modernizing the message' and 'getting away from Reagan,' Fund said that the way we deliver the message can be modernized, but the message of freedom doesn't need to change as it is still the right one - and the one the American people will choose when given a ideological choice.

As for Samsphere, itself, I'm surrounded by bloggers from around the country - many of whom have done terrific things within their communities. (see left-hand column for a complete list and links to all their websites)

This is a "new media forum, hosted by the Sam Adams Alliance, where bloggers and e-activists from across the country can gather together to network and share ideas. Samsphere will be specifically geared toward bloggers and e-activists who focus on local and state-level politics, and who are dedicated to the principles of individual freedom and limited government."

I'm honored to be included in such a prestigious group and will post about today's activities and speakers, including one of my favs, Chuck Muth.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Would you let someone else control the temperature in your home?

That's what Toledo Edison wants to do...

At least it's a voluntary program and it's not government making the decision. But I don't need someone else to make such decisions for me, as I'm perfectly capable of doing so on my own.

Thoughts on airline travel

* Can you get athlete's foot when you have to take off your shoes during the security screening and walk where someone with the ailment has already walked?

* Why must liquids in the carry on be limited to less than 3 oz.? If you needed more than 3 oz. of a liquid to do something bad, couldn't you just divvy it up into 3 oz. containers?

* Are there really people who don't know how to work the seat belt on a plane?

* When the pilot and flight attendants ask that all small bags and coats be stored under the seat in front of you - or not put into the overhead compartments until all the bigger luggage is stowed - and people do so anyway, don't you wish you could impose some sort of penalty on the spot?

* Does it bother you when someone who is sitting in the back of the plane puts their carry on bags in the overhead compartments at the front of the plane, just so they don't have to lug it all the way to the back? Can we fine people who do that?

* Can I get a government grant to study why people expand to fill a space? In walking through the airport, parties traveling together will walk closely if there are a lot of people and it's crowded. But, when the crowds thin out, they expand their distance between each other to take up the newly-available space. This happens in malls and other walkways as well. If government can give out money for other frivolous types of studies, why not this one and why not me?

* And with all the inconveniences that have been added to airline travel, why are so many people still doing it?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Censorship by city government? 'Not business friendly' post #8

Yesterday I was at the Erie Street Market and I talked to several individuals there. What I learned astounded me.

I had two individuals tell me that they had called WSPD to talk about things at the ESM (during the city's takeover of the facility from Citifest - background here) and later that same day they were confronted by a representative from the city (which owns the property and issues the leases) who told them not to call the radio station again.

Comments were made about their leases and how easy it was to raise rents or break the lease and 'replace' them.

Of course, neither person wanted to go on the record for fear of actually losing their space at the Market. When I pressed them, they could not say if the city's representative was acting on their own or under direction from the mayor's office. Regardless, I was not surprised to hear of the heavy-handed tactics to silence criticism.

Sadly, this is what I've come to expect in Toledo - threats, intimidation, ad hominem attacks, etc. Perhaps this is part of the reason we're losing population?

Reminder - Mobile Meals Chili Cookoff

Mobile Meals of Toledo will host their 16th annual Great Chili Cookoff on Saturday, April 12, at the Stranahan Great Hall.

There will be competitions for corporate, amateur, media and restaurant. The event runs from noon until 5 p.m. with awards at 4 p.m.

* Taste a variety of award-winning chili
* Vote for your favorites for the People's Choice Award
* A celebrity panel of judges will award the Judge's Choice
* Chili Corporate Team Competition - Noon-4 p.m.
* Chili Amateur Team Competition - Noon-4 p.m.
* Chili Media Team Competition - Noon-2 p.m.
* Restaurant Competition - Noon-4 p.m.
* Salsa Tasting from Area Companies

Entertainment consists of music, chef demonstrations and the Black Swamp Cruisers' Classic Car Show. There will be food and beverages available, including Toft's Ice Cream!

If you've got a killer chili recipe, you have until March 28 to enter, with registration forms available for all categories here. If you just want to taste while supporting a terrific cause, mark April 12th on your calendar.

This is a fun and delicious event with 100% of the proceeds going to support Mobile Meals' Home Delivery program. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

UPDATES: Toledo City Council approves new trash tax

Toledo City Council has rejected a continuation of the current $5.50 trash tax ($3.00 if you recycle) in favor of a sliding scale to bring the total to $10 if you don't recycle and $0 if you do.

This year, people who recycle would pay $2 and those who don't recycle would pay $7. Those amounts would go to $0 and $10 by 2010.

UPDATE: Vote was 8 to 4 ... all new rates go into effect May 1st:

2008: $7 for non-recyclers, $2 for recyclers
2009: $8.50 for non-recyclers, $1 for recyclers
2010: $10 for non-recyclers, $0 for recyclers

FOR the new fee structure: Mike Craig, D. Michael Collins, Joe McNamamra, George Sarantou, Betty Shultz, Mark Sobczak, Tom Waniewski, and Wilma Brown.

AGAINST the new fee structure: Phil Copeland, Frank Szollosi, Lindsay Webb, and Michael Ashford.

Kudos to Lindsay Webb who said during her campaign that she was against a trash fee in any form - and has voted accordingly.

UPDATE as of 8:54 p.m.: Motion to reduce the PERS pickups by 1% failed. Only McNamara, Szollosi and Webb voted to start the process of employees paying more of their own portion of their retirement contributions.

Council also voted to fund the LCIC at $25,000 and add $75,000 for economic development. Currently they are trying to follow how much money they've got to spend to see if they can start a police class in October.

They all look confused...they should have put the numbers up on a board in order to keep track of them because they've all got different figures on their papers and spent several minutes just figuring out how much money they do or don't have...

Seeing the Space Station

For some reason, my husband is fascinated with watching the International Space Station as it passes overhead. For those of you with similar interests, here is a schedule of when it will be visible and where to look.

Thursday looks like the best day in terms of length of visibility and elevation...but the other days will be good as well.


Quotes of the day

Covering for the morning show on NewsTalk 1370, I'm here are some quotes on government spending, in honor of the planned vote on Toledo's 2008 budget scheduled before City Council today:

"Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." ~ Frédéric Bastiat

"If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time, no matter how much slaughtering he did on the side." ~ Orson Scott Card

"When George Washington threw the dollar across the Rappahannock River, he didn't realize he was establishing a precedent for government spending." ~ Harold Coffin

"Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature ... If the next centennial does not find us a great will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." ~ James Garfield, 1877

“The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.” ~ H. L. Mencken

"It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error." ~ Justice Robert Houghwout Jackson

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is Finkbeiner telling a mis-truth about the budget?

In his letter to Toledo City Council urging them to continue the $5.50 'refuse fee,' Mayor Carty Finkbeiner states that he's cut the budget by $22 million over the last two years.

Here are the general fund revenue totals from the budget:


2004: $ 219,842,388.75 (actual)

2005: $ 226,769,645.36 (actual)

2006: $ 234,135,285.58 (actual)

2007: $ 246,724,857.26 (approved budget)

2008: $ 251,789,258.82 (submitted budget)

Simple math will show that the 2008 general fund revenue has increased $31,946,870.07 since 2004. That's a 14.5% increase.

General fund expense totals are:

2004: $ 223,939,034.71 (actual)

2005: $ 226,105,257.61 (actual)

2006: $ 234,312,215.50 (actual)

2007: $ 247,578,871.24 (approved budget)

2008: $ 251,789,258.82 (submitted budget)

This is a $27,850,224.11 increase - or 12.4% So where is the $22 million in cuts???

Note also, that in 2004, 2006 and 2007, they either spent or planned to spend more than they took in. No wonder the city is facing issues with our budget.

***The 2008 figures are from the published budget and they do not include the $1.1 million 'discovered' monies from unclaimed funds, nor the 2007 carry-over amount. They also don't include the additional expenses Finkbeiner had to budget for Toledo Municipal Court and their criminal justice needs.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

First Robins of the year!

We saw them...two of them, actually. They were along the side of Summit Street, happy as could be, pecking at the soft ground.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera, but both Sam and I saw them - and the other bird with his back to us might have been a third robin.

Spring has sprung!!!!

Happy Easter!

It's been a long time - a really long time - since I decorated eggs for Easter. For as much as the process has changed, it's still the same.

With stickers and plastic shrinking decals and glitter paint, I wasn't sure I would know what to do. But, with colored pellets and vinegar, and the ever-present 'dipping wire,' I felt right at home. I did not, however, miss the days of stained fingers.

My friends Jason and Julia were the primary impetus for decorating eggs this year as they came down from Ann Arbor to spend the weekend with us. Even our friend George and my husband Sam did an egg - George doing one reminiscent of his sailboat "Group Therapy" and Sam focusing on geometric placement of the colors (he is an engineer, after all).

As we left the eggs in the refrigerator, the Easter Bunny did not realize there were there to be hidden, so Sam will perform this duty and Julia and Jason will conduct the search. (Note to self: count the eggs before hiding them to be sure ALL are found!!!)

My three attempts at art, and all the wonderful decorated eggs are in the photos. Julia was particularly proud of the 'rainbow' egg she made, and Jason's smiley face is there as well.After all eggs are found, they will be made into deviled eggs, per a special request.

Later today, we'll all join with Sam's family for ham, leg of lamb, good conversation and time together. That's what holidays are for.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Inconsistencies in Toledo's budget and a challenge to City Council

Earlier this week, I posted numerous questions about the 'assumptions' Mayor Carty Finkbeiner made in his 2008 budget for the city.

One of the questions I raised was about the revenue projections. Finkbeiner's estimated 2008 income tax revenue:

"Income Taxes are assumed to grow at 2.5% in 2008 over an estimated 2.6% growth rate for 2007 over the 2006 actual Income Taxes."

I questioned the income tax collections for the first two months of the year in relation to projections. Today, The Blade reports that income tax revenue for 2007 was lower than projected - 2.5% less, in fact.

In 2006, the city collected $168,421,993 in income tax, but gave out refunds totaling $3,704,749. Net collections were $164,717,264.

According to the above statement from Finkbeiner, 2007 projected income tax revenue was supposed to be 2.6% more than in 2006. The 2007 amount was budgeted at $173,967,203 which is actually 5.6% more than what the city got in 2006 - not 2.6%.

The discrepancy is in the refunds. While the city paid out refunds of $3.6 million in 2004, $3.5 million in 2005 and $3.7 million in 2006, there was nothing budgeted for refunds in 2007. They've not included refunds in the 2008 budget either.

By budgeting and referencing ONLY what they collected and ignoring any refunds, the city is over-projecting their actual revenue. And they are basing their spending on this over projection.

Some might say that this is okay, considering that even with actual collections of income tax being less and overtime being more, the city still ended up with about $1 million in carryover. However, hoping that revenues and expenditures will somehow balance out to the good, as they did in 2007, is not proper financial planning.

The city needs to budget for income tax refunds - as they will certainly occur - and budget the spending based upon the net income tax line items, not just upon collections alone.

Which leads us to 2008 and more questions in light of this just-released information about the 2007 collections.

* Does the $169.68 million income tax revenue amount include the refunds issued in 2007? Or is this just the amount collected?

* If the $169.68 million amount is before refunds, what was the net amount?

* Has the city revised their income tax projections for 2008 as a result of this new information - and, if so, how much?

According to several reports about the city council finance committee meeting on Thursday during which these new numbers were released, the city has actually INCREASED their revenue projections to $253,271,089, with the additional money coming from $1.1 million in unclaimed funds which can, by law, be deposited into the general fund, and about $400,000 which is half of the carry-over amount from 2007 (the other half is supposed to go into reserves - or the 'rainy day fund.')

So if this new revenue amount is based upon these two additions to the budget, the city has not reduced its income tax revenue projections. If they budget a 2.5% increase (which is certainly not a guarantee in light of the layoffs and lack of meeting projections in the first two months of the year), will we find ourselves short of income in 2008?

Sadly, the city did not publish a year-to-date actual budget when they published their 2008 projected budget. They list only the 2007 budgeted amounts, so citizens (and council members???) see only what was actually spent in 2006 and what they planned to spend in 2007. If we could see YTD figures as of the date of publication, we'd have a much better understanding of what was being planned for 2008. But perhaps that's the point?

On March 18, I sent an email to John Sherburne, the Finance Director, asking questions about the many assumptions in the 2008. No - I've not yet gotten a response, but it appears that some of the questions were addressed during the finance committee meeting Thursday.

Unfortunately, most citizens interested in the budget weren't at that afternoon committee meeting. And, while city council plans a committee of the whole meeting Monday at 2 p.m., it's not likely that citizens will be able to attend at that time, either. Council plans to vote on the budget during their regular meeting on Tuesday.

During my guest hosting stint for Brian Wilson on WSPD yesterday afternoon, Fred Lefebvre called in and made an excellent suggestion. To challenge city council members to refuse to vote on the budget until all questions are answered - satisfactorily. I agree.

Many council members are livid over just learning that the city has an unclaimed funds account that can be accessed (to the tune of $1.1 million) to help balance the budget. They should demand explanations about how long city administrators have known of the availability of these dollars and when they decided to transfer the monies to the general fund ... and why council wasn't informed of this earlier. They should also demand answers to the 'assumptions' originally made and whether or not the assumptions from November of 2007 are still valid and accurate today.

If you agree, call city council and tell them (419-245-1050). Government is supposed to work for us and they should not be allowed to get away with these types of inconsistencies and obfuscations with our money.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Quote of the Day

"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." ~ P.J. O'Rourke

The Spotted Eagle Ray

I was extremely surprised to see this story about the Michigan woman who was killed when a Spotted Eagle Ray jumped out of the water and collided with her in her boat.

One of the routine joys of our yearly vacation has been to watch the several Spotted Eagle Rays who cruise the stretch of beach in front of the place we stay. I couldn't even count how often we've grabbed our snorkel gear and dashed down to the beach to see if we could actually swim with them.

"Our" rays are quite beautiful and very used to people. These particular rays are not aggressive, even though they do use their tail barbs in defense. I've been able to swim near them, always keeping a proper distance so as not to alarm them.

While snorkeling this year, I saw the one pictured here. I got several pictures, but even with the Spotted Eagle Ray slowly (for him) gliding around the reef, I couldn't keep up.

It's hard to tell the size from this photo, but this ray was about 5-6 feet wingtip to wingtip.

We've also seen them jump, as the one in Floriday did, but we were either anchored or quite a distance from them at the time. I can certainly imagine the shock of the people on the boat when this happened and my prayers are with the family and friends of Judy Kay Zagorski.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Birthday GOP

As Republicans reflect upon our first county convention and the formation of our party, I'm reprinting this column from Peter J. Wirs, who is the Chairman & Co-Trustee of the Republican Leadership Trust as well as the incoming President of the National Conference of Public Officials.

Many of our elected Republicans should read it and then compare the principles to their votes.

Today is Republican Party’s 154th anniversary, its first county convention convening March 20, 1854, in Ripon, WI. The first state GOP convention occurred later that year on July 6th in Jackson, MI. The first national Republican committee convened in Pittsburgh February 22- 23, 1856; the first national convention the following June 17th in Philadelphia. The question remains, why are we Republicans? On this anniversary, we distill GOP platforms of years past, harmonize with our Constitutional principles and Judea-Christian ethos to illuminate as touchstone

The 10 Tenets of the Republican Party

First — We are Republicans because we believe in Limited Government always subservient to the electorate. To guard against the transgressions of the high powers delegated to public officials, we hold inviolate that such powers government are not general, but forever circumscribed. We do not denounce government, but are of the Blackstonian belief government is but a civil entity limited to exercise police powers solely to protect one from another. We believe in the separation of powers not only among any branch, but between Federal and state government, only the enumerated authority of limited national matters is the domain of the Federal government, remaining authority reserved to the States, dispersed among their municipalities as designed, or to the people respectively. We fear always the powers of government are expanded only by those seeking to wield such.

Second — We are Republicans because we believe in Civil Rights affirming not only the human dignity of, but earnestly protecting the individual against the ugly repression of majoritarian rule. We embrace our Founding Fathers chastising Local Spirts who vulgarly manipulate the political process in aiding, abetting, and perpetuating customs and usages ingrained historically and psychologically in the mores and attitudes upon which such factions require to sustain themselves. We declare our sympathy with all the oppressed people through out the world who struggle for their rights.

Third — We are Republicans because we believe in Justice as Jus Fidus Libertatum (Law Is a Safeguard of Freedom); that the courts shall always be open and every man for an injury done him in his lands, goods, person or reputation shall have remedy by due course of law, and justice administered without sale, denial or delay. Judges exist solely to interpret the law for the purpose of protecting the individual against majoritarian rule, as the rule of law is always an obstacle to the elite; and by virtue of human nature infesting any adjudication, neither the writ of habeas corpus or coram norbis be suspended.

Fourth — We are Republicans because we believe in Religious Freedom as all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Divine Providence according to the dictates of their own consciences free of control or interference. We eschew the hypocrisy of imposing personal doctrines or dogma as bounden for political convictions; and although we insist upon the separation of church and state, such applies only what may divide us, not to the historical truth for why our ancestors defied all to cross the Atlantic to these shores; such being necessary to cherish to protect us against moral entropy, for civic virtue is an absolute, it being impossible to devise a process that excuses morality.

Fifth — We are Republicans because we believe in Political Integrity, the right to criticize; to hold beliefs; to protest; to undertake independent thought. We do not rendezvous for vilification, for selfish political gain at the sacrifice of individual reputations and national unity, for to embrace a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty is as equally disastrous to America as false hopes promulgated as panacea by advocacy of a welfare state. We remain prohibited from obtaining electoral victory on the backs of the Four Horsemen of Calumny: Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear, for America’s greatest ill today as in the past, the animus held against one and other. We likewise demand the Printing Press be free to all who undertake to examine any aspect of governance without restraint of law or monopoly, least we suffer the loss of the vigilance on behalf of us all. Free communication of thoughts and opinions is our invaluable right, as the only test of truth is the power of thought to gain acceptance in the competition of the marketplace of ideas.

Sixth — We are Republicans because we believe in Public Ethics in only from the Creator is there authority, and He endowed civil government as also the church to fulfil His will. Hence, public officials have the indisputable moral obligation to obey the most exemplary standard of conduct, for character is much easier kept than recovered. Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the highest ethical mooring is indispensable to resist power’s enticement. We believe all voters have the inalienable right to require public officers observe without reservation procedural and substantive due process and render adjudications on basis of merit, as absolute and uncontrolled discretion invites abuse. It is always shocking to the conscience when any public official exercise public authority for personal motives.

Seventh — We are Republicans because we believe Public Officials are Fiduciaries of the public treasury, duty-bound to exercise the greatest skill and prudence in the most diligent means possible, as government should be administered with the strictest economy and rigid accountability; the plundering of the public treasuries by "pork" or "earmarks" which so shamefully corrupt the halls of power impugns the Constitutional demand government serves only the General Welfare. Appropriations are justified solely on the premise of universal benefit for the commonweal, accrual whatsoever to any special interest at the expense of the general public is proscribed.

Eight — We are Republicans because we believe in Competence, for if Government is granted a power to exercise, it is presumed such power is exercised successfully. We require Public Officials at all times avoid arbitrary and capricious decision-making based on random or convenient selection or choice rather than on reason, and never fail to doubt their own infallibility by entrusting themselves with people vastly more knowledgeable, taking due pain to be rightly informed, and be guided by the priorities deem best fulfil the Public’s interest without self aggrandizement or being solicitous to public whimsicality. We believe of governance by reflection and choice, not by accident and force.

Ninth — We are Republicans because we believe we are stewards of God’s Bounty of clean air, pure water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of our inherited environment from sea to shining sea, being the common property of all, and accordingly, we shall conserve and maintain our environment not for the exploitation to satisfy greed of the elite but for the universal benefit all people, including generations yet to come.

Tenth — We are Republicans because we believe in Balance between guns and butter, knowing economic consequences of failing to sustain one or another but never both. Without our national defense we have no domestic tranquility, yet since we lead by example, not by force, our military are defenders of our cherished liberties, not worldly provocateurs. We believe taxation should never be an impediment, as every person has the right to govern himself, to fix his own goals, and to make his own way with a minimum of governmental interference, for government is to foster and maintain equal opportunity for the pursuit liberty and happiness; undertake only to provide needful things, rightly of public concern, which the citizen cannot himself accomplish.

By virtue of great principles given birth in Declaration of Independence, fulfilled by the Constitution and enshrined in the Bill of Rights as the true foundation of our Democracy by a Republican form of government, we labor with every breath all effort toward making these principles a living reality on every inch of American soil.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A conversation for conservatives

There's a new website that I want to bring to your attention - Martin-Stewart's The Conversation, and it's first entry:

The Conversation Begins....

Since 2004, Democrats have dominated the internet. They have owned the blogosphere. They have ruled fundraising. They have continually pioneered technology. Occasionally, Republican dogma has been challenged. The challengers have been lectured and scolded. Enough. The technology illiterate must realize… There is no nostalgia, there is no back in the day… There is simply politics, momentum, and what happened on this day.

Martin-Stewart’s Conversation will modernize Republicans. Fusing bloggers, campaigners, citizens, consultants, politicians, and statesman, we will discuss, expand, and improve our party. Instead of witnessing Democratic dominance and asking why… We will seek Republican dominance, asking why not?

The second post on the page, from fellow SOBer Matt Hurley who writes at Weapons of Mass Discussion, is "A Conversation on Conservatism," a topic that gets a lot of discussion among Republicans and Conservatives these days.

I highly recommend that you read Matt's post and share your thoughts on what it means to be a conservative in today's political world. I also wish much success to this new blog!

Quote of the Day

As we continue with budget hearings in the City of Toledo - and the tap dancing being done by so many of our elected officials - I thought this quote from Rep. Marsh Blackburn (R-TN) to be especially appropriate:

"Government does not have a revenue problem; government has a spending problem.

Government does not have a revenue problem; government has a priority problem.

It is time that we begin to fine tune our focus and decide what the priority of government ought to be. "

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

One of my all-time favorite authors, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, passed away today at the age of 90.

Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were known as the 'Big Three' of science fiction writers - and sadly, they are all now gone.

Clarke was a true visionary, depicting in his writings and stories such things as the principles of satellite communication, and his three laws:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

While 2001: A Space Odyssey, is perhaps his most well-known work, it is only one of the 33 novels he wrote - and that doesn't include his numerous short stories and non-fiction pieces.

As a child, my reading consisted first of Nancy Drew and then science fiction. I read all the books from Clark, Heinlein and Asimov that I could ... and then resorted to searching for their short stories among various collections. I can still remember the wonder and fascination in reading of things that could have been possible and might still be. I lost myself in these stories, never realizing that I was learning much from them in the guise of entertainment.

In 1970, Clarke wrote:

"The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars... A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space."

This was certainly true for me. While I knew I'd never qualify for the astronaut program, the influence of Clarke's writings led me to choose engineering physics as my first major in college. And even as my decisions led me into elective office, I was still influenced by this great writer, who admonished:

"Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories."

Clarke has so many great works, it's hard to pick a favorite. In fact, I don't know that I could select one, or even a few, as favorites because I enjoyed them all. However, I do have a 'most memorable' list. And at the top of the list is Clarke's short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God." I was amazed - and a bit disturbed - by the mind that could conceive of the story's premise: the end of the world upon the discovery of all the names of God.

There is a line in that story that has stayed with me since my first reading - and I think it appropriate to recall it now as we celebrate the life and accomplishments of its author:

"There is always a last time for everything."

Rest in peace, Arthur C. Clarke.

More questions on Toledo's 2008 budget

The following questions are based upon the assumptions presented by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner as part of his 2008 budget submission to Toledo City Council. (budget and assumptions are available through the link at the left)

I've sent these questions to Finance Director John Sherbourne, and also posted them on my Eye On Toledo blog. When (or if) I get answers, I'll share them with you. Additionally, as there are budget hearings tonight and Thursday, please feel free to ask any or all of these questions during those meetings.

Questions to Finance Director John Sherburne:

1. How much was the carryover from 2007?

2. Income taxes are estimated at 2.5% over total 2007 collections. How much income tax was collected in January and February and is that 2.5% over last January and February? If it's not 2.5% more than last year, how are you adjusting your revenue projections?

3. You've doubled the number of speed cameras but the projected revenue from all those cameras is 6 times more than in 2007. Why isn't the revenue projection just double?

4. You say you're going to do monthly air traffic monitoring and that is projected to bring in an additional $312,000. How much does the air monitoring cost and have you done this in January, February and March? If not, don't you need to adjust your revenue projection as it was based upon 12 months of monitoring?

5. You've estimated 1% increases in many miscellaneous line item accounts. However, some of those line items are fees. Projected increases include: $20 for arcades, $40 for bowling alleys, $2.40 for car trailer rental, $3 for dance studios, $8 for laundry mats, $6 for miniature golf, $2 for temporary stores and $10.65 for theaters.

Now, you're not projecting any new stores to account for these increased fee collections and you haven't raised the fees for these places. While each of these is small, when you add up all these types of things in the budget, the impact is significant. How will you achieve these revenue projections?

6. The budget assumes a full pension pickup of 8.5% - is that for all employees? Don't some elected officials and management staff pay their own pension pickups? And if some people pay their own portion of the pension, does that mean you've over-budgeted your pension line item?

7. You've got debt for hotels at $975,000 - almost a million dollars. Why is the city paying debt on hotels and why don't we just sell them so we no longer have this expense on our books?

8. Why don't you issue an RFP for both garbage pickup and demolition to see if outside contractors could provide the service for less than the $12.5 million that is budgeted?

9. Are you still planning on both police and fire classes in 2008? If you don't do a class, how much would the budget be reduced? (I'm not saying don't do the classes, I just want to know the costs.)

10. The budget calls for closing two pools, but Lindsay Webb has presented an ordinance to open 7 aquatic centers. Is the entire additional cost of Lindsay's proposal over what is budgeted paid for by spending the earned interest from the Parks Trust Fund? If we're going to spend the interest off the Parks Trust Fund, could we not pay for some of the maintenance of the parks with that money and then reduce the general fund?

11. Municipal Garage costs are projected to go up 7.4% - the majority of those costs are paid for by the various city departments with general fund monies. Why are you not looking at issuing an RFP to see of one or several of our local businesses could perform some of that work for less money - especially since that was what was suggested in at least 2 studies the city of Toledo paid for?

12. The solid waste budget is based upon all temporary employees being eliminated as of January 1. Were they eliminated and, if not, how much will failure to eliminate those positions cost us?

13. Negotiations are still continuing about criminal justice budgets, but the projections call for saving $2 million by citing booked individuals under the ORC instead of TMC. Have you already started doing that and, if not, how much would your savings be reduced by continuing to cite under TMC for the first quarter of the year. If you have already started, how much has actually been saved in the first quarter of the year and is a savings of $2 million realistic based upon the results of the first quarter?

14. This same situation also applies to Pre-Trial services and Pre-Trial detention. You estimated making changes in how these are done as of Jan. 1 and saving a total of $1.4 million. Did you make these changes at the first of the year and, if not, how much have you adjusted the budget?

15. Many times agreements are reached and then presented as a whole to city council when the budget is actually voted upon. How can citizens get the information as to some of these agreed-upon budget changes PRIOR to the actual budget vote so we have time to review them and comment upon them?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tom Coburn on the Founding Fathers and Pork

This is a terrific article in National Review written by Sen. Tom Coburn on what the Founding Fathers would have thought about pork.

"Even though he firmly believed that the power of appropriating federal money belonged only to Congress and that it was necessary to have a clear delineation of authority between the executive and legislative branches of government, Thomas Jefferson also fervently argued against the use of federal funding for local projects. For example, in a 1796 letter to James Madison regarding federally funded local projects, Jefferson wrote, “[O]ther revenues will soon be called into their aid, and it will be the source of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get the most who are the meanest.” Anyone who has observed the recent tantrums of those who have had their pork challenged knows that Jefferson’s statement was sadly prophetic."

He continues:

"The importance of transparency in government operations was also recognized by Jefferson. In 1808 he wrote, “The same prudence, which, in private life, would forbid our paying our money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the disposition of public moneys.” And yet, in the United States Senate, senators are freely able to distribute earmarks to organizations from which they solicit campaign contributions without ever having to actually disclose the names of those organizations. Try as they might, it is difficult for earmark enthusiasts to argue that the author of the Declaration of Independence would today endorse the allocation of taxpayer money on “unexplained projects.”"

The entire article is a must-read - and kudos for Sen. Coburn for keeping the fight against pork alive!

Toledo Free Press articles and an Arena Contest

This weekend's Toledo Free Press had a terrific section on Brain Gain that you should read. As one of those who chose to stay in Toledo and not leave in the first place, it's nice to read that others recognize the good things about our city. It's also nice to see them working to implement the changes they think we need in order to make us better.

There is also a column from Dr. Dan Johnson, president emeritus at UT, on regionalism. I had already read the article he referenced in The Economist, and I agree that there are good lessons to be learned from the cities cited. Unfortunately, I have a bit more cynical take on the potential success of such imitation under our current leadership. I don't believe there is enough trust between the communities to yet embark upon a regional approach to economic development. This is especially true in light of recent actions by the County Commissioners and Toledo's Mayor regarding water, the re-location of Federal Express, and the underlying perception that Toledo doesn't want to work WITH surrounding communities - but, rather, wants surrounding communities to work FOR it.

Finally, there is my Eye On Toledo column in which I take an updated look at the financing of the arena. I am more concerned now than I was in the beginning of this project because of the reported increases in costs for the new arena - up to $105 million versus the original estimate of $80 million - with no discussion or announcement of where the additional $25 million will be found.

Absent another source of funding, this project will require tax monies from county residents. So here is your chance to predict the future. I may be wrong, but I believe that sometime between now and the opening of the arena the Board of County Commissioners will announce that they need more money in order to finish what they've started. I also predict the logic will be that "we can't stop now when we're halfway through the construction, so you need to support a tax or levy or some other source of additional public financing."

Here's the contest: If you agree, leave a comment with your estimated date of the announcement that county residents will have to assume more of the costs of this project. In case you're one of the cynics who think the Commissioners will never make such an announcement but, instead, will just find a way to divert more public monies into the project, you may guess the date that such an action will be made public (either in the media or on a blog).

A $20 Kroger card will be given to the person who comes closest to the actual date. Get your guess in early because duplicate dates will be discarded.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Accountability at TARTA

Last November, TARTA had one of their two levies on the ballot. It passed, but six of the nine TARTA jurisdictions defeated the levy. Support from the City of Toledo voters overcame the no votes from the six suburban communities.

In response to the issues raised during the campaign, TARTA manager James Gee said the agency would look at how to address those concerns - perhaps by enlisting the help of TMACOG.

As of my last email with Gee, TARTA is planning to issue an RFP for a study...again. The last one they did, in 2005, still has many recommendations that have not been implemented.

The problem many people have with TARTA revolves around state law. Under current law, once a community joins a regional transit authority, they cannot leave unless all the other jurisdictions give them permission. Also, if you'd like to join TARTA, you're making a permanent commitment - something several area jurisdictions are unwilling to do.

So State Rep. Randy Gardner introduced HB 480 which would allow member communities to withdraw from an RTA - and allow others to join for a 3-year trial period.

TARTA, of course, objects.

They say that this bill is targeted solely to them. And that is correct - but only because other RTAs in Ohio don't have the numerous complaints about service issues that TARTA does. TARTA has been non-responsive to concerns, complaints and requests for service improvements for years. And member communities are tired of paying for a 'service' that doesn't meet their needs.

TARTA claims this bill 'threatens their existence.' However, this bill is only a threat if TARTA fails to provide a quality service to member communities, which is the entire point.

Member communities have no leverage in their discussions/negotiations with TARTA. TARTA does what it wants and member communities must live with those decisions and actions. Member communities have no alternative. Unlike other types of services, they're stuck paying for something no matter what.

Under these conditions, and without changes from TARTA, it is likely that six of the nine member jurisdictions would threaten to withdraw if given the chance. If HB 480 passes, however, member jurisdictions wouldn't have to withdraw. The mere threat of withdrawal should be enough to get TARTA to respond to their issues and concerns and, hopefully, force TARTA to make improvements. And if TARTA didn't, then who could blame those communities if they decided to leave?

TARTA has, of course, relied upon the tried and true method of persuasion in this area: predict doom and gloom if the bill passes; threaten that residents who depend upon TARTA will lack the 'essentials of life'; prey upon the fears of the vulnerable - the elderly, the disabled and the children.

TARTA is not all bad, providing TARPS and Call-A-Ride services that are much appreciated by those who use them. TARTA has also provided good service to the Toledo Public Schools for the transport of students during the school year. But the management of the agency has, for decades, turned a deaf ear to the numerous complaints of many.

In fact, March 24th there is a meeting at the Ability Center to discuss many of the unanswered complaints from that organization on behalf of their constituents - complaints that were brought to TARTA board meetings over the past several months but remain unaddressed.

HB 480 provides communities with leverage for their discussions with TARTA. It forces accountability at TARTA and introduces a consequence for the lack thereof. It is only a threat if TARTA refuses to respond and make the changes its customers want.

Rather than fear potential negative outcomes if TARTA doesn't change, all TARTA communities should embrace this bill as an option to force improvements in an agency that has ignored them for years.

TARTA would have no reason to oppose this bill if they were already providing truly effective and efficient service to their member communities. This is their opportunity to improve - and to suffer the consequences if they don't.

Friday, March 14, 2008

UPDATED: Is this a legal use of city staff and resources???

This morning, I received a press release from Brian Schwartz. It was sent to all media contacts and those who've asked to be added to the list of entities receiving City of Toledo Press Releases (like me).

"Schwartz, Brian"Schwartz, "Brian"
Date: Thursday, March 13, 2008 11:42 AM
Subject: Request for assistance from the media


March 13, 2008

Contact: Bob Reinbolt (419) 245-1007

(419) 654-2544



Toledo, Ohio -- City of Toledo Chief of Staff, Robert Reinbolt, requests media assistance in notifying the public of his missing family pet. He is offering a $1,000 reward for her safe return.

Erin is a black and tan female mixed German Shepherd, weighing approximately 40 lbs. She has white on her chest and has a stubbed tail. She is not aggressive, but is timid around strangers.

She was last seen on March 10, heading north on Secor Road toward the Michigan border. Reports have ben (sic) received of a dog matching Erin's description in the Telegraph/Alexis, Douglas/Laskey, and Smith/Douglas areas.

Posters and advertisements have been placed in these areas and a $1,000 reward is offered for her safe return. Please call (419) 472-2594.

Erin is very small and the family fears she will not last long in the outdoors, so any assistance provided by local media to raise community awareness would be greatly appreciated by the Reinbolt family. Mr. Reinbolt understands the restrictions many media outlets have regarding this sort of request and appreciates any and all help he can get. As a strong pet lover, he encourages everyone seeing any stray dog to lend assistance as much as possible. To those who lose their pet, it is quite traumatic.

Since when did it become acceptable to use the resources of a city (money, staff, email, press contacts) to issue a notice of a lost dog for an employee? And is it legal to use these resources in this manner? If someone approaches a dog thinking it might be Reinbolt's, but it isn't, is the city then somehow liable for any bites that may result since they've encouraged citizens to approach stray animals? Think anyone ran this by the law department before issuing this release? And will they do this for other citizens?

Inquiring minds...

UPDATE: The Toledo Blade features this story on the front page of today's paper.

"“Am I using my position? Sure,” Mr. Reinbolt said yesterday.

“But I am going to do everything possible so we can get her back.”"

Two questions: 1) Since he admits he's using his position and city resources for a personal matter completely unrelated to the business of the city, should he be sanctioned in some way? 2) Could you imagine the impact if such city officials focused as much attention on a missing child - or in reducing the costs of city government?

Again, inquiring minds...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hypocrisy in government

I know - you're wondering why this is the title...isn't that a given??? But...

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is holding hearings in the Toledo-area as a result of rate increase request by Toledo Edison. Of course, this area has some of the highest utility rates in the state and our elected officials have been clamoring for rate reductions - or no increases - for years. They all say they'll work to reduce those rates because they have such a detrimental impact on residents and our ability to attract and retain businesses. They go on about how these companies need to keep their costs down so the area can prosper.

So what's hypocritical? Aren't these admirable positions to take? Well, they would be if this was a consistent approach to things which cost too much and should be reduced - like the cost of local government.

Increased costs of government have the same detrimental impacts on residents and businesses as high utility costs do, but somehow the similarity escapes our elected officials. Imagine the lower tax rates, less regulation and smaller government that would result if these same elected officials applied their 'utility cost logic' to something over which they had some control - and legal authority.

I can only wish our local elected officials would be as diligent with government costs as they are with those of utility companies.

Quote of the Day

In light of the way our local budget hearings are going, I found this quote particularly instructive. Maybe I should post this for all the residents to see as they enter into the various budget meetings...

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." ~ Thomas Jefferson

Ohio's response to WSJ's 'Texas v. Ohio' editorial

Ohio's governor and lieutenant governor respond to the Wall Street Journal's "Texas v. Ohio" editorial:

March 7, 2008

Paul A. Gigot
Editor of the Editorial Page
Wall Street Journal
200 Liberty Street
New York, New York 10281

Dear Mr. Gigot:

We are writing in response to your March 3 editorial entitled “Texas v. Ohio.”

Your editorial ran the same day Ohio earned the 2007 Governorʼs Cup Award from Site Selection magazine. The Governorʼs Cup is awarded annually to the state that has the highest number of new facilities and expansions that meet at least one of three criteria – 1) involve a capital investment of at least $1 million, 2) create at least 50 new jobs, or 3) add at least 20,000 square feet of new floor area.

The award represents private capital investors voting with their money. It means that capital investors evaluated Ohio versus other states, completed thorough due diligence, weighed the facts, and most often decided Ohio was the ideal location for their capital investment.

Ohio has won the cup two years in a row. Not by opinion polls or historical databases, but rather by objective, tough to convince, hard-nosed business executives who donʼt like to make mistakes when it comes to large capital investments.

These executives are seeing a fundamentally improved Ohio business climate. In 2005, Ohio enacted the most sweeping tax reform in 75 years; reform that made Ohioʼs new capital investment tax rates the lowest in the Midwest. These reforms are designed to make Ohio companies even more competitive in the global economy and will ensure that Ohioʼs economy continues to be robust and vibrant throughout the 21st century.

In the March 3 editorial, Ohioʼs corporate tax rate was cited as being 10.5 percent based on a two year old set of numbers. Today, the actual effective corporate tax rate is only 3.6 percent. In two years, that tax rate will be zero, as Ohio will become one of only four states without a corporate profits tax. Ohio is also one year away from becoming one of only ten states without a tax on business tangible property (machinery, equipment, fixtures, and inventory). New machinery and equipment is already tax-exempt. Finally, Ohioʼs personal income tax is in the fourth year of a five year series of rate cuts that will reduce all tax rates by 21 percent from their pre-reform levels. In sum, Ohioʼs tax structure is much more business friendly than the editorial asserts. The bottom line: a company starting operations here next year will pay no tax on its tangible property and no tax on its profits.

Ohio also received a significant vote of confidence in the stateʼs fiscal management: recently Moodyʼs continued to rate Ohio bonds “Aa1;” and Fitch and Standard & Poorʼs gave Ohioʼs bonds a rating of “AA-plus.”

In Ohio, we believe in creating risk-sharing collaborative partnerships between the public and private sectors to create an even stronger state economy. We invite your readers to get the facts about Ohio by visiting

Texas earned the Governorʼs Cup six times, certainly an impressive achievement, and they laid the foundation for their stateʼs remarkable economic growth. Ohio has now earned the Governorʼs Cup in back-to-back years. We are confident that our recent tax reform and our aggressive economic development efforts are moving Ohio to the head of the class.


Ted Strickland
Governor of Ohio

Lee Fisher
Lt. Governor of Ohio
Director, Ohio Department of Development

Is the Art Assist program paying off?

Hopefully you remember this 'wonderful' idea proposed by Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop to provide low interest loans to individuals to purchase art. My original post on the subject contains the details of the offering, but to recap...

The County will take money that could be earning a higher rate of interest and will purchase a certificate of deposit that pays only 1% interest. They will purchase this CD from Key Bank who, in exchange for the non-market interest rate, will make low-interest loans available to individuals who want to purchase art.

According to the original information, under this new 'economic development' program, individuals who qualify can get a loan of between $500 and $2500 at an interest rate of 1% to purchase a piece of local art. The maximum amount that Key Bank will loan under this program is $25,000.

As I wrote at the time,

"So...instead of the County Treasurer, Wade Kapszukiewicz, getting the best rates for the county, he's agreeing to this investment which, according to his office, means that the county treasury will be out $7,881 (the difference between the going interest rate and the 1% that will be paid)."

As this program is costing the County $7,881 and since it's been about 6 months, I wondered how successful it's been to date. A couple of emails regarding this public information and I got an answer.

Since it was announced, only three people have applied for the low-interest loan. Only one loan has been issued and it was for $3,500, which is higher than the original parameters for the loan amounts.

Now, it seems to me that someone who can afford to spend $3,500 on a piece of art really doesn't need a low-interest loan financed by the county taxpayers to do so. And if someone was going to qualify for this particular loan, isn't it likely they'd qualify for a more conventional loan that you and I didn't have to subsidize?

I contrast this costly program to the recent - albeit, legitimate - concerns about county travel expenses. Sales tax revenue in the county is down from estimates (which should have been expected considering all the doom and gloom we hear from elected officials about how bad off everyone is) so the commissioners want to restrict travel expenditures, though their authority in this regard is somewhat limited.

This makes sense - but if they're going to go to such measures on the travel line item, I'd like them to pay attention to these types of headline-grabbing programs that are costly and do not generate anywhere near the return on investment they are touted to have. If we're really serious about cutting costs in the county, let's not waste precious investment income on a commissioner's pet project, either.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ohio law on paying petition circulators found unconstitutional

I didn't see any local coverage of this court decision, but I found this update from the law firm of Bricker & Eckler:

On March 5, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its opinion in Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters, Case No. 07-3031, which affirmed the holding of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio that Ohio Rev. Code 3599.111 created an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech. That Ohio statute prohibited compensation to a petition or referendum signature-gatherer on a per-signature basis, or any basis other than for "time worked." The Sixth Circuit held that while the statute has "the sensible purpose of reducing fraudulent signatures," the law nonetheless was contrary to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and thus invalid, as "creat[ing] a significant burden on a core political speech right that is not narrowly tailored."


The Court noted that while Ohio's reason for the law -- the elimination of election fraud -- "is certainly a compelling state interest," § 3599.111 was not narrowly drafted to accomplish this purpose. While the state presented evidence that there was fraud in Ohio preceding the 2004 presidential election by some circulators retained on a per-signature pay basis, the Court found no proof the pay basis was the cause of the fraud. Further, Ohio already criminalizes election fraud through Rev. Code § 3599.28, which makes false signatures on an election-related documents a fifth-degree felony. The Court found this type of law adequate to deter improper conduct in the gathering of signatures. The Court concluded its opinion by holding that "[b]y making speech more costly, the State is virtually guaranteeing that there will be less of it. Because its ban on all forms of payment to circulators except based on the amount of time worked would create a significant burden on [plaintiff's] and other petitioners’ core political speech rights, the State must justify it with a compelling interest and narrowly tailored means."

Full text of the court decision.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Anonymous web postings to be banned?

It's been Republican Kentucky lawmaker, Tim Couch.

The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site ... and to display their full name with their comments.

"Representative Couch says he filed the bill in hopes of cutting down on online bullying. He says that has especially been a problem in his Eastern Kentucky district."

Perhaps this Republican legislator should re-acquaint himself with the concepts of freedom, limited government and individual responsibility that are supposed to guide members of the Republican Party.

Complete story here. Your thoughts?

Women's Voices Making History

If you read the comments under "Finally...this explains it all," you'll find that Catherine Morgan posted the following:

"I wanted you to know, that I nominated you for Women's Voices Making History. Your blog is on my list of over 300 women blogging about politics, and I am currently going through it, and nominating blogs that I think are most worthy. Anyone can nominate a blogger, so if you have others you would like to nominate, all you have to do is go to the site at Women's Voices, Women Vote. :-)


Catherine "

Catherine has several blogs, including this one about Women Bloggers, of which I am a proud member.

I'm so very honored by this nomination and wanted to thank Catherine for thinking that my blog was worthy of consideration. I have no idea if I'll make the final list, but will find out after March 21, at which time everyone can vote on their top favorites.

As turnabout is fair play, I've nominated Lisa Renee Ward of Glass City Jungle who's been doing this blogging thing longer than me - and who also was quite helpful as I first got started.

I think it would be fantastic if two women from Toledo make the final list! After all, Northwest Ohio has proven to be very welcoming to female leadership over the years.

Again, my thanks to Catherine for the nomination!

City officials can't add

Friday we finally got the financials for the Erie Street Market for November and December after the City of Toledo took over the operation of this city-owned facility.

Today, The Blade has a story on the losses incurred by ESM and the article makes it clear that our city administrators need a refresher course in math.

The Market lost $7,842 in this 90-day period of time ... a time, as commenter Tim Higgins said, that should have been one of the most profitable time periods for retail outlets.

Bob Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff had this to say:

""It showed a negative net income, and the reason for that is we paid $5,714 in bills for CitiFest," said Robert Reinbolt, chief of staff for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. "Then there were security costs, and part of those costs were associated with CitiFest."
"When you look at it, it shows loss. But in reality, it's a break-even if you don't count the CitiFest expenses," Mr. Reinbolt said."

According to my math, if the city had not paid those costs 'associted with Citifest,' the ESM still would have lost $2,128 - 11% of their total revenue. And this doesn't include the questions I raised in my earlier post about expenses which aren't listed on the 'financial' report.

And then there is the subsidy provided by the city - approximately $300,000 per year in utilities. Projecting a $306,148 profit for 2008, while continuing the utility subsidies which are NOT included in the financial statements, means the city is NOT going to make a profit on this entity.

As former District 5 Councilwoman Ellen Grachek said, "The time has come to gracefully exit, if there is such a thing, from the Erie Street Market."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Finally…this explains it all!

From the Charleston, SC, GOP newsletter:

If you don't understand the Democrats' version of tax refunds, maybe this will help explain it:

50,000 people went to a baseball game, but the game was rained out. A refund was then due.

The team was about to mail refunds when a group of Congressional Democrats stopped them and suggested that they send out the ticket refunds based on the Democrat National Committee's interpretation of fairness.

Originally the refunds were to be paid based on the price each person had paid for the tickets. Unfortunately that meant most of the refund money would be going to the ticket holders that had purchased the most expensive tickets. This, according to the DNC, is considered totally unfair. A decision was then made to pay out the refunds in this manner:

* People in the $10 seats will get back $15. After all, they have less money to spend on tickets to begin with. Call it an "Earned Income Ticket Credit." Persons "earn" it by having few skills, poor work habits and low ambition, thus keeping them at entry-level wages.

* People in the $25 seats will get back $25, because it "seems fair."

* People in the $50 seats will get back $1, because they already make a lot of money and don't need a refund. After all, if they can afford a $50 ticket, they must not be paying enough taxes.

* People in the $75 luxury box seats will each have to pay an additional $25 because it's the "right thing to do."

* People walking past the stadium that couldn't afford to buy a ticket for the game each will get a $10 refund, even though they didn't pay anything for the tickets. They need the most help.

Now do you understand?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Erie Street Market did NOT make a profit

Despite claims to the contrary, now that we've received a summary of the unaudited financial statements for this operation from the city (and calling it a summary is kind), it's clear to see that the Erie Street Market did NOT make a profit in November/December following the takeover by the city. (background here).

NBC24 reporter, Aaron Brilbeck began his morning with Bob Reinbolt, the mayor's chief of staff, refusing to turn over the numbers saying "No I won't go on your silly TV station just so you can make a fool out of me."

This afternoon, mayoral spokesman Brian Schwartz told Aaron that the numbers had been turned over to the city's finance department which promptly rejected them as being 'inaccurate.'

However, just before 6 p.m., Schwartz emailed a spreadsheet to NBC24. WSPD morning show host Fred Lefebvre called in to Eye on Toledo to report that NBC24 did have a story on the losses during their 6 p.m. newscast.

Here are the unaudited numbers the city provided:

My first thought on seeing these numbers was to wonder at why something so simple took 2 months to produce. But then I looked at what was - and wasn't - included in the figures.

Unless 'contractual administration' includes the wages, etc...of the ESM manager, there are no wages, benefits, payroll taxes for her. There is no charge for insurance. Even if utilities and other overhead costs are assumed by the city, they should still be listed somewhere on the financial statement, especially now that the city is running the operation. Without an accounting of those costs, even if paid by another source, there is no true account of the viability of venture.

City departments get charged for various 'services' other departments perform for them. There are no charges on this spreadsheet for legal, accounting, auditing or other such fees. There are no telephone expenses...and Citifest detailed a line item for the piped-in music, which is not listed on the city's spreadsheet.

Perhaps it is the lack of these items which resulted in the finance department characterization of the report as "inaccurate."

Even without these expenses, the ESM did not make a profit in November/December as claimed by the mayor and various staff in January. And these numbers should make anyone seriously question whether or not it can make a profit at all - and whether or not the city should continue sponsorship of this entity, or just sell it.

UPDATED: Prediction for TPS Board of Education

While I said this about a week ago in an email, I decided I wanted to share it with all of you.

I predict that Bob Vasquez will be named the new member of the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education, replacing Robert Torres who resigned when he took a new job out of town.

My predication is based upon his previous appointments by Jack Ford to various boards, the comment from TPS board president Steven Steel that he was looking for someone with board experience, and his 'affiliation' with A-Teamers of the local Democratic Party who constitute the majority of the board. It is NOT based upon any inside knowledge of the preferences of the board members.

While I believe there are a couple of others who would make excellent board members and provide a diversity of thought, I think Bob will get the nod.

The board meets at 7:30 to make/announce their decision.

UPDATE: I was right!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Quote of the Day

From the Patriot Post:

"I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic - it is also a truth, that if industry and labour are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out." ~ James Madison (speech to the Congress, 9 April 1789)

Can't help but wonder what he'd think of today's Congress and the current regulations placed upon all industries that require lawyers and accountants just to figure out...

Still waiting for public records on Erie Street Market

Yesterday, I talked with Tim Livingston, of NBC24, about the financial records for the Erie Street Market and a story they were working on. Both of us have been waiting for the November/December financial statements ... for a long time.

Last night Aaron Brilbeck covered the story, "No financial records for Erie St. Market," and he did a really nice job of demonstrating the lack of accountability within the city.

While I'm as frustrated as the NBC24 staff about the lack of response to the public records request, I'm also concerned about public statements made in early January that the Market made a profit in November/December after the city took it over.

In fact, that was the reason I made the public records request in the first place. I sent the following email to Brian Schwartz:

"Brian - there have been several statements lately (mayor and staff) that the ESM made a profit in November and December. I'd like copies of the financial statements for these two months, which you must have in order to know that there was a profit."

At that time, I was told to check back in a week...which I did, with this email:

"Hi Brian -

You said the financial statements for the Erie Street Market would be done by the end of this week and to check back with you on this. I did so earlier in the week, but haven't had a response."

His response?

"The financial statements for the Erie Street Market are not done yet."

I followed up again, as it was now January 31st and I got the following response from Mr. Schwartz on February 1st:

"Maybe a threat or two would help as well. Get a little angry. Andy Ferarra is who you should solicit the ESM records from. He had until today to get them done and, of course, took until today to get them done."

Now, this communication seems to indicate that the financial reports for November and December are done. However, they were not forthcoming, despite this clarification from Mr. Schwartz:

"Ferarra just went into a meeting with the mayor. I believe he was supposed to have that report for that meeting. If I can get a copy, I'll get it."

Rather than call Andy Ferarra, I spoke to the Commissioner of the department, Ferrara's boss, Todd Davies. He explained that they had finally gotten all the accounts set up and that the financial reports should be able to be generated within about two weeks.

On Feb. 29th, not having any response to my request, I again had a phone conversation with Mr. Davies. He told me that the financials were done but that my request had to go through the law department first. We had an interesting discussion that this law department review was because of who I was and who I worked for. He asked me to formalize the request to him by sending him an email - which I did:

"Todd - per our conversation today, I have copied the email exchanges between me and Brian S. regarding my request for public records - specifically, the November and December financial statements/reports for the Erie Street Market - since the City of Toledo assumed control of this entity from CitiFest.

As you will see in the emails, I was notified to contact you directly, which I did on Feb. 1 via phone. At that time, you informed me it would be about 2 weeks to provide the documents.

Please let me know when the information can be emailed to me (if available in electronic format) or when I can inspect the information in order to determine what, if any, copies I may like to have made."

But in another twist in this long story, my response came not from Mr. Davies, but from Katerina Bekyarska, who was filling in for Brian Schwartz.


it has come to my knowledge today that you have been trying to obtain information on a couple of things. The first one from what I understand is the financial reports for the Erie Street Market for November and December. Actually, yesterday I inquired about that and was told that those will be ready some time next week."

My response to her:

"As I'd been instructed to follow up directly with Todd Davies on the ESM financials, I've been doing that and spoke to him today. He told me the information was ready but that the request had to be reviewed by the law department. And yes, that is for me - not for general requests for information. I'm sure there's nothing there that would be excluded from the public record, but if you'd also like to track this request, that's fine with me."

Additionally, I questioned why the commissioner of the department would tell me the reports are done, but that his subordinate would tell Ms. Bekyarska that it would still be another week. Her response:

"I do not know why Todd had said this to you. There may be a miscommunication. Andy Ferrara is working on them and does not have them completed yet."

(Perhaps no one really knows what's going on in the city? And these are the same people who are in charge of the entire budget?)

In still another twist in the complicated effort to get a simple report, I had a phone call this morning from Mr. Davies who informed me he's still working on getting those records for me. I can't help but think it's because the issue is again getting news coverage with NBC24's story last night.

So - in early January city administrators and the mayor make public statements that the ESM made a profit in November and December after the city took over the operations. However, two months later, the financial statements are still not done - so how in the world would they even know?

Funny - but lack of financial accountability was one of the reasons Mayor Carty Finkbeiner used for taking over this operation in the first place.

And if you were someone who was just curious about these public records, would you have gone through all of this rigmarole - or would you have given up on ever getting a response to your request? Perhaps that is the point...

I'll keep you posted on our continuing efforts to obtain these public records.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Where will the cuts come from now that the 3/4% temporary tax has passed?

Toledo voters overwhelmingly approved the 3/4% temporary payroll tax renewal yesterday by about 60%-40%. So you're probably wondering why I'm asking about cuts now that the tax has passed - right?

Well, here's why:

The current distribution of the tax, per the Toledo Municipal Code, is as follows:

1905.14. Allocation of funds.
(c) Allocation of Three-Quarters Percent (3/4%) Tax Increase. Commencing January 1, 2005, one-third of the increase in funds resulting from the continuation (by Ordinance No. 546-04 which was approved by the City's electorate on November 2, 2004), of the prior increase of three-quarters percent (3/4%) in the City's income tax, as originally provided in Ordinance No. 157-82, passed by the Council of the City of Toledo on March 16, 1982, and approved by the City's electorate on June 8, 1982, shall remain in the General Fund for police, fire and other Safety Department responsibilities, one-half (1/2) of said increase shall remain in the General Fund, and one-sixth (1/6) of the said increase shall be allocated to the Capital Improvements Fund.

Since the tax generates about $57.7 million per year, that means:
* $19 million to police/fire/other safety department responsibilities
* $28.75 million to the General Fund
* $9.6 million to the Capital Improvement Fund

But the ballot language that was approved changed the distribution as of January 1, 2009. From the Board of Elections website:

Continuation of a three-fourths percent (3/4%) levy on income (one-third (1/3) to the General Fund for police, fire and other Safety Department responsibilities, one-third (1/3) to the General Fund, and one-third (1/3) to the Capital Improvements Fund), commencing January 1, 2009, and ending December 31, 2012.

That means that the revenue from this tax gets split equally with about $19 million to each category.

Now, it should be easy to see that with the CIP getting more money, the general fund (including police/fire/other safety department responsibilities) gets less - $9.75 million less, to be exact.

So, despite the claim by Council President Mark Sobczak that "(i)t'll be business as usual...", it really won't be if the general fund has to go without approximately $10 million starting in January.

So where will roughly $10 million in cuts come from? Inquiring minds want to know.

Quote of the Day

From The Patriot Post:

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader." ~ Samuel Adams (letter to James Warren, 12 February 1779)
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