Saturday, November 1, 2008

"The Baddies": Award-Winning Local Political Ads

We've all gotten used to seeing television and radio ads stretch the truth, misstate the facts, make personal attacks, exagerrate results, attempt to stir up fear, etc. Indeed, it's hard to see or hear many ads today that DON'T DO at least one of those things.

So in this environment, it's hard to run an ad that sticks out for truly crossing new lines of distaste, or chutzpah.

But three local political ads have managed to do just that, truly taking the cake. When this campaign season is over, and everyone can catch their breath, hopefully people will see just how nuts things have gotten:

1. OUTRAGEOUS CLAIM AWARD: Tell voters your opponent is packing her bags and moving to Africa! This is not a joke:

Congresswoman Jean Schmidt is suggesting to voters that her opponent, Victoria Wulsin, by agreeing to an honorary title with a university in Kenya, plans on relocating to Kenya after losing her election on November 4. As the ad watch from the Enquirer (which endorsed Jean Schmidt, by the way) makes clear, the premise of the ad is utterly ridiculous:

2. LEAST CREDIBLE REFERENCE AWARD: Use anonymous blog commentary as a credible attack on a candidate.

Usually, an ad will look for a credible source to cite when criticizing an opponent--newspaper quotes from a reocognized newspaper, or an identified person who people trust. Well, one local ad has recently taken us to a new threshold: anonymous online postings!

Candidate for County Clerk of Courts Patty Clancy has taken anonymous quotes from to tag her opponent, Martha Good, who also teaches at Miami, as disorganized. You can see the ad here:

Let's hope this new trend in flimsy sourcing ends November 4, but something tells me it won't.

3. CHUTZPAH AWARD: Take the most disastrous decision in years and turn it into a positive(!) campaign talking point.

I know of no one at the County who still believes that Phil Heimlich's decision to spend about $10 million straight out of the County's reserve fund to rent jailspace at Butler County was a good idea. Indeed, most of us (and folks from both parties) know it was a disastrous idea in so many ways--it squandered our rainy day fund (which could have helped tremendously now that it's raining), it guaranteed 300 beds per day in Butler County (so we were paying even it beds were empty, which ended up happening), and no permanent source of funds was proposed to support this ongoing commitment, so it ultimately ended in 2007 without ever having made any permanent improvement to our criminal justice system. All told, the County blew through $10M, and had no more jailspace or helpful alternatives in place to show for it afterward.

The best evidence of the collective conclusion that Butler County was a costly failure is that after Issue 27 failed, and there was no identified source to pay for Butler County, even those who had supported it initially quietly agreed when we ended the contract. Not a peep from anyone, or any proposals for how to "save" it--because no viable way existed.

In hindsight, if Butler County had never happened, while we'd been slogging through a tough budget right now, we'd be nowhere near the budget crisis we face because our reserves would be far healthier.

All this being said, I nearly swerved off the road when I heard my colleague Pat DeWine's radio advertisement for judge where it touts as an accomplishment that he added jailspace without raising taxes! This is literally taking the disastrous Butler County decision and claiming it as a good thing, as something to be proud of. True chutzpah, when it was a decision that has led to such a financial calamity, with no real improvement in our corrections situation.

And, ironically, it's ultimately untrue, because when two attempts to actually pay for the commitment through tax increases failed (the 2006 Heimlich/DeWine(!) tax increase, and the broader Issue 27 public safety plan in 2007 which included Butler County temporarily), and there was no way to pay for the ongoing commitment, the temporarily added jailspace vanished.

Like I said, real chutzpah.

Let me know if you have other ads you'd like considered for awards . . .

Friday, October 31, 2008

New Initiative: Greening Our County, Together

Today, we kicked off an exciting and, hopefully, historic effort to put Hamilton County on the cutting edge of the "green" movement. We gathered dozens of cities, townships and villages from across the County to begin what we are calling our County Climate Initiative.

For many reasons, our county/region has one of the largest carbon footprints in the country. The challenge is to reduce it--but with that challenge comes true opportunity:

Opportunity to improve our quality of life, environment and public health--and to attract new citizens because of that improved quality of life;

Opportunity to reduce (taxpayer) costs through more efficient use of energy and creative alternatives;

Opportunity to create jobs through the new "green economy," and through an approach that creates demand for those new jobs.

To get there, rather than each government in the County reinventing the wheel, our initiative's aim is to do the work in one partnership. In the coming months, we will meet together, guided by moderators and consultants (providing help at no cost), to work through different topics (energy use, solid waste, etc.) where each governmental body can make concrete improvements, and generate real savings and carbon reductions.

At the end of the process, we will put together a Countywide toolkit, giving each community numerous practical options for how each can address the energy/green issues most important to their community. Then, as each community picks from among those options, we will lay out our overall County "Greenprint" (as opposed to a blueprint, get it?) to a greener future, and create a collective carbon saving calculator to keep track of our results.

Today, we were thrilled that dozens of community leaders from across the County came to our first organizational meeting, so we're off to a great start. And thanks to Thane Maynard of the Zoo for being the honorary chairman of this effort.

For more information, or to participate in this exciting and important effort, check out our website at:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

#1 Again, Unfortunately

In this already competitive climate, this is something that has to change.

Being #1 in high fares again, and 69% above the national average, is incredibly damaging in all sorts of ways: It's startling just how out of whack we are.

Needless to say, we'll keep pushing to find alternative carriers into CVG.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sharing Services, Saving Money

After painting a pretty bleak (but realistic) budget picture yesterday, today I have some good news.

One of the ways out of our long-term budget crunch is to consolidate services in the County. If many jurisdictions combine forces to provide a service, versus every one of us doing that service separately, we will save money and provide better service--the epitome of doing more with less. Too often, though, obstacles of turf, bureaucratic malaise, and simply not analyzing how a potential consolidation might work, keep these types of common sense reforms from happening.

For a little more than a year, representatives of jurisdictions across the County have been meeting through our Shared Services Committee to do just this type of work, identifying a number of areas where shared/consolidated services make the most sense: code enforcement, tax collection, heavy equipment sharing, and health among them. There are obviously other areas we should consider, but these seemed like good, tangible first steps.

Well, being organized has paid off. Today, we received word that two of these areas--code enforcement, and heavy equipment sharing--will receive grant funding from the state's Regional Collaboration Grant program, which will really accelerate our work in those areas. Together, we received more dollars than any other part of the state, which I believe happened because we had proactively begun our own effort even before the state created its program, and were more organized.

In terms of long-term solutions to our challenges, this Shared Services process provides a light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2009, we've got to produce tangible results and savings in the identified categories, and expand this work to other areas.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Perfect Storm: Why Our Budget Is So Tough

As we approach our 2009 budget deliberations, I thought I'd take a moment to explain why our County's budget situation is so challenging.

Unfortunately, it's pretty simple--and the graph above sums it up well.

Several primary revenue streams to our general fund are down--some in dramatic fashion--from last year.

1. Sales tax, our largest source of income, is down 1.5%. While that looks relatively small on the graph, that is our largest source of funds (about $65M), so any decline represents a significant amount of dollars (especially when it usually grows). Importantly, we don't collect sales tax on gas or food, so to the extent the cost of those items has been way up most of this year, overall spending on those items that we do tax will go down as squeezed families spend less on those items.

2. Interest income we count on has fallen by millions because of the decline in interest rates.

3. Most dramatically (percentage-wise), the dramatic decline in the housing market, property sales and property development have combined to take a huge chunk out of all revenues that rely on those industries--including the real estate transfer tax, associated fees, and building permits.

Together, these hits to our revenue total about $10M.

And they help explain why the key elements of the current economy--a housing slump that depresses property sales and prices, recent food and gas price increases that reduce spending on other items, a growing consumer spending slump, and the Fed's effort to battle all this with low interest rates--have combined to form a "perfect storm" for our basic revenues and budget.

Heading into 2009, while we have to budget assuming the worst (ie. that this continues), we'll also prioritize those measures that will help turn this economy (and our revenue picture) around.

The Economic Crisis: Your Take?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the current economic crisis -- what you think caused it, how it has affected you, and what you think some of the solutions are.

Let me know by taking the survey:
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