BLUMER: Government failures abounded in southwestern OH

By   /   December 20, 2012  /   No Comments

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

The supposedly conservative and heavily Republican southwestern part of Ohio had quite a run of big-government failures and failures-in-the-making in 2012.

CAN A PARK save Cincinnati?

While it would be easy to assign the blame for most of them to the once proudly conservative but now almost hopelessly liberal city of Cincinnati, the city’s suburbs and exurbs also have done their part.

To be sure, it’s was pretty bad inside Cincinnati’s city limits.

In July, it reopened Washington Park, a now 8-acre expanse north of downtown, after spending a mind-boggling $48 million for a 450-car underground parking garage, land acquisition, several new facilities and significant renovations.

Admittedly, the park’s appearance and amenities represent an impressive improvement over its decrepit prior condition, and, to be fair, about 45 percent of the funding came from private sources. It’s still hard to imagine how this so-called “investment” ultimately will be worth it.

Supporters believe it “will serve as a catalyst for future development of at least 25 surrounding vacant properties.” Let’s see if they’re right in a few years. I doubt it.

Two decades ago, the city said that the heavily subsidized and now half-empty Tower Place shopping complex downtown would be a catalyst for a revival there.

An Associated Press report covering the city’s late-November offer to buy the entire mess with $8.5 million it really doesn’t have described it as “a once-thriving downtown Cincinnati mall.” That’s sheer historical revisionism. My recollection is that the mall had high vacancy rates and disappointing shopper traffic virtually since its inception.

Just two years after its 1991 opening with the help of $10 million in city “investment,” the now-defunct Cincinnati Post, normally a see-no-evil cheerleader for city commerce, wrote that it “hasn’t been able to meet expectations.” The mall’s situation never improved, and it has been an economic millstone around the city’s neck for more than two decades.

Of course, the city isn’t learning from its mistakes. It’s deciding to make new ones. In February, after two voter initiatives failed to stop it, it broke ground on a 4-mile streetcar project with an estimated cost of $102 million before the predictable cost overruns.

The government of Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, is still paying dearly for its ill-advised decision to build two stadiums for the Major League Baseball’s Reds and the National Football League’s Bengals.

In 1996, the county’s commissioners convinced taxpayers to approve a sales-tax increase that supposedly would be enough to cover all costs involved while providing property tax relief for homeowners. Sales tax revenues, based on far too rosy projections, weren’t at all sufficient.

Sixteen years later, the commissioners didn’t even attempt to force goodwill concessions from the heavily tax-favored professional sports teams. Instead, facing a $7 million deficit in the stadium fund, they reneged on half of the property tax rollback in early December by a 2-1 vote while claiming that the de facto tax increase will be in place for two years. We’ve all heard that, haven’t we? The lone vote against the tax increase came from a Democrat.

From Clermont County, Hamilton County’s eastern neighbor and supposedly a Republican and conservative stronghold, came news in November that for reported “financial reasons,” the Jungle Jim’s grocery store in the Eastgate area would be laying off 30-40 employees just two months after it opened.  An emailer who lives in the area informed me that this is yet another example of the government trying to pick winners and losers, and — as all too often happens — picking a loser.

Government was never designed to interject itself into — and thereby manipulate — the market in order to create jobs. Rather it should stay out of the way so that the market can dictate which industries are sustainable.

Sadly, the idea that our local and county governments will learn from their 2012 mistakes and conduct themselves in accordance within a properly limited framework in 2013 is probably way too much to hope.