Pretend you’re the manager of a major Ohio city. Your city’s population and industrial tax base are shrinking, as are its tax revenues. But your city’s expenses aren’t dropping, and you can’t cut the payroll without getting major grief from union officials and politicians. So what do you do – besides telling the firefighters and police to cut back on the overtime? For one thing, you express great interest in any “creative” idea that comes along which will bring in revenues from another political entity. That’s what’s happening these days in Cincinnati.
To begin with, there’s this guy named Andy Scott, who’s had his face beaming from the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website. Scott apparently works “with,” but not “for,” the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. This Haile Foundation, through Scott, is spear-heading an effort to transfer the financial burden of maintaining certain city buildings and facilities from the City of the Cincinnati to the residents of Hamilton County, within which the city resides.
Obviously, the average Hamilton County resident living outside of Cincinnati proper isn’t much interested in paying a half cent more of sales tax on all his purchases to support a city he doesn’t live in. And naturally, since you’re the city manager, you have a budget that’s chock full of items which you wouldn’t want bandied about in a tax levy campaign. So the idea is, you’ll go to work at selling people on high-minded municipal pride. Instead of talking about city employees and street car boondoggles, you’ll talk about the Art Museum and Music Hall. Instead grim discussions about pension systems and crime rates, you envision television commercials with cute kids walking with grandpa at the Museum Center or pointing at elephants at the zoo.
Of course, the county has been previously hit up for this sort of thing. But since the county board of commissioners is majority controlled by Republicans, they’ve declined in the past to authorize such a tax or to put a levy for one on the ballot. As a result, this guy Scott was brought in to line up support for a “special” county sales tax. And to his credit, he’s been able to get the Cincinnati Enquirer to back his project with a favorable editorial and two prominent articles. See here.
One of the Enquirer articles touted an opinion poll provided by Scott which said a majority of Hamilton residents favor a sale tax to repair and renovate the major art and entertainment facilities in the area. But the actual poll and its questions weren’t made available to the public. So it’s not clear how many of the repsondents had any idea who the buildings actually belonged to; that is, to the city or the county. Besides, while people might have been mentally picturing Music Hall and the Zoo, who knows what might eventually be covered by this special tax.
Here’s another thing that’d be interesting to know. The poll was conducted by the Fallon Research & Communications, a public opinion research company out of Columbus. According to Paul Fallon, “the sales tax questions, included in a broader survey about various countywide issues, were not funded or commissioned by any candidate, organization or committee.” Well, hmm… who did pay for it? Union officials, maybe? What’s the big secret? Surely this isn't about something that's going to lock in "prevailing" union wage rates?
For the record, both Andy Scott and Milton Dohoney Jr., the Cincinnati city manager were contacted for their input on this posting. Neither was able to get back on the matter. Doubtlessly, they’re rather busy these days.
Update: The original posting described Fallon Research & Communications as "a Democrat-aligned company out of Columbus." This description was simply a conjecture, based on the firm's website, which says it works with "levy committees" and labor groups. It may have been an unfair presumption.