Ohio EPA Provides Update on VW Mitigation Trust Fund

August 11th, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

In December of 2016, the Ohio EPA began accepting comments on the use of the anticipated $75 million the state of Ohio expects to receive as part of the settlement in the Volkswagen Clean Air Act civil settlement. While a Trustee was appointed by the court earlier this year, there are still ongoing negotiations with the court and parties to the settlement. This has caused the Trust Effective Date to be pushed back to sometime later this month or in September. Once the Trust has become effective, states can begin the process of becoming certified beneficiaries. This is one of the reasons why the state legislature backed away from previous efforts to appropriate $30 million from the settlement towards public transit earlier this year – the funds will not become available until after the state has been certified.

Ohio EPA has recently announced that they are in the process of drafting a mitigation plan which is expected to be completed and available for public comment sometime later this fall. The agency reports that during the December public comment period, the most requested use for funds from the settlement was for school bus replacement, transit bus replacement, and electric vehicle charging stations. These are just two of the ten allowable uses for the funds which are outlined as a part of the VW Mitigation Trust Settlement. The plan being formulated by the Ohio EPA would include all ten of the allowable uses of funds.

Greater Ohio continues to support the use of funds from the settlement being used to support transit – specifically the purchase of newer, more fuel efficient transit vehicles. As was noted in December when Greater Ohio reached out to Ohio EPA with recommendations regarding the use of settlement funds, public transportation in Ohio has been severely underfunded for years. The state currently allocates approximately $0.63 per Ohioan to transit, while Ohio’s peers, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, invest over $24.00 per capita. As a result of deferred support, over one-third of Ohio’s 3,200 transit vehicles are still on the road despite being beyond their useful life and in need of replacement. The state mitigation plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund represents an enormous opportunity to replace diesel-powered city buses, repower buses with alternative fuel engines, and other alternatives that are both environmentally friendly and will make transit for cost effective.

Shrinking Cities Reading Series Part VII: “Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World”

July 27th, 2017

By Torey Hollingsworth, GOPC Manager of Research and Policy

In her book Small, Gritty, and Green, Catherine Tumber makes an argument for the value of small older-industrial cities in a low-carbon future. Tumber aligns smaller cities’ sizes, industrial pasts, and proximity to agriculture with broader societal needs she prescribes for a less fossil-fuel dependent future. She argues that for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to climate change, the United States needs to move away from a fossil-fuel based economy. Additionally, she suggests that land use patterns in the United States are not currently sustainable. Tumber argues that both sprawl and concentrating population in a handful of dense, global cities are negative and that small cities present the possibility for more sustainable, equitable, and human-scale communities.

Tumber traces much of her argument back to early urban planners and intellectuals, particularly Lewis Mumford. Mumford argued against the inherent value of the metropolis, and suggested that a truly equitable United States required both economic and spatial democracy – or a network of cities of different sizes set among protected natural and agricultural land. This kind of arrangement would help keep land values within the cities reasonable and would also provide for a more equitable distribution of cultural relevance among places. Smaller cities were particularly important because of their abilities to maintain a more cohesive community while still affording some of the “drama” of the urban experience. Mumford’s distrust of New York’s cultural hegemony and financial powers echoes Tumber’s own concerns, voiced throughout the book, about bigness and coastal perceptions of small city culture. Her concern about growing inequality among people and places is tied to increasing consolidation of economic power in the hands of a few large corporations. These economic winners have also created spatial winners – places where the creative class gathers and the knowledge economy flourishes.

Tumber argues that it is exactly some of the features that have caused these cities to decline that could make them catalysts and proving grounds for new, green urbanism. In particular, she focuses on transportation systems, local food systems, energy production, and manufacturing as key opportunities for small cities to exploit in the green economy. In many ways, each of these issues either historically or currently represents a deficit for small cities. For example, even more so than in larger cities, these cities’ transportation networks are largely reliant on automobile use. But population decline and new interest in alternative forms of transportation means that some cities are looking to dismantle some of the very highways that contributed to suburban flight and neighborhood disinvestment. Highway removals give small cities the opportunity to remake their urban form and reconnect neglected portions of the city. Similarly, the decline of large-scale manufacturing in the United States decimated many of these cities’ local economies, which did not pivot quickly enough to diversify. But even there, Tumber sees opportunity. Although not all of these opportunities are explicitly green, new technology will require the kind of specialized manufacturing at which many of these cities excel. Some cities like Muncie, Indiana, have intentionally sought to broaden their local expertise to include green industries like wind turbine production. In all of these cases, Tumber argues that small cities’ size gives them the advantage of agility, even though their local political systems might be more volatile because of that. But even in distressed cities like Youngstown and Flint, Tumber finds reasons for optimism in their innovations regarding vacant property reuse, local food systems planning, and visions for a greener future.

This article is the final installment of a blog series exploring books and articles written about shrinking cities, or communities that are losing population and dealing with housing vacancy and abandonment. For more information on this series, see the first post “Reading Series on Shrinking Cities”. These summaries are provided only for educational purposes and opinions expressed in these summaries do not necessarily reflect those of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

 

Connecting People to Jobs: The Economics of Job Hubs and Employment Access

July 19th, 2017

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 By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Recent studies have shown that over the past two decades or more, more land is being used today, expanding the places where jobs are located, but this is occurring without a net increase in population or jobs. This new type of urban sprawl, known as “no-growth sprawl,” has the effect of separating workers from the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Cleveland is one of those cities where this has been an especially troubling trend. Now, a number of groups are working on solutions to the problem of erasing the disconnect between people and jobs. 

Fund for Our Economic Future (“The Fund”), working in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) and Team NEO, has been examining the concentration of jobs hubs in Northeast Ohio and the benefits and challenges they present to the region. Job hubs are specific places of concentrated economic activity in a city or region, with specific focus on where “traded sector” companies are located in the region. Traded sector companies are organizations that can sell their goods and services outside of the local economy.  The Fund examined job concentration centers in the five counties that make up the NOACA area, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina Counties, and identified 23 job hubs. These include obvious locations such as Downtown Cleveland, but others as well, including places are far away from the city as Oberlin to the west and Middlefield to the east.

The disbursement of these jobs hubs is at the center of the research the Fund is currently reviewing. Half of the traded sector employment was found to be in a jobs hub in the region.  These jobs are very much in demand and are needed for the local, state and national economy. Additionally, these are jobs that traditionally provide higher income and greater career opportunity than typical service employment jobs. As these hubs move further and further from population centers, transporting people to the jobs is becoming an increasing problem. A survey conducted  by Team NEO found that, when asked to rate what was the biggest challenge to making new employees successful, the most popular answer among employers was employees showing up to work on time and being ready to work when they got there.

This is not to suggest that job hubs are bad things – as the Fund points out, when job hub are integrated into a regional growth strategy, they can improve economic competitiveness and increase opportunities for residents who are currently disconnected from jobs[i]. The biggest obstacle that job hubs present is ensuring that workers have access to these locations. The current pattern of growth that Northeast Ohio and other regions of the state have experienced is increased costs of both time and money for residents. Research by the Brookings Institute shows that the number of jobs within a typical commuting distance fell by 26 percent between 2000 and 2012, which is among the worse measurable rates in the nation[ii]. Furthermore, the research shows many Ohioans spend a disproportionate amount of their income on transportation as opposed to housing[iii].

Most concerning of all is that the Fund’s research shows that 25 percent of Cleveland residents do not have access either to a vehicle they own or, in increasing numbers, to public transportation[iv]. Hence, the challenge the Fund and others face is finding a solution to connect people who lack transportation to job locations, where employers find that their biggest struggle is finding workers who can get to work on time and be ready to work.

Transit agencies statewide are struggling to meet the ever-increasing demands for public transit. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) is working with groups like Fund for Our Economic Future to ensure that sufficient funding is available for public transportation and that service is designed to ensure that workers can be connected with jobs. For more resources on GOPC’s work in this area, please see our Transportation Modernization webpage.

 

[i]  Fund for Our Economic Future: Why Job Hubs are Important

[ii]Fund for Our Economic Future: Job Access

[iii] Ibid.

[iv]Governing Magazine: Car Ownership Numbers

 

First Workshop of 2017 Ohio Transportation Academy Explores Regional Visions

June 21st, 2017

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator

In partnership with Transportation for America (T4A), Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) began the 2017 Ohio Transportation Local Leadership Academy last week, bringing together leaders from various cities and regions around the state to equip them with ideas for local transportation solutions. Private, public, and nonprofit-sector representatives from Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Delaware, Hamilton, Lorain, and Toledo came together at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) headquarters in Columbus, for the first of six Academy sessions.

Workshop 1, titled “Achieving Regional Visions through Transportation,” opened with Beth Osborne, T4A Vice President for Technical Assistance, and Alison Goebel, GOPC Executive Director. Osborne highlighted the crucial role that transportation plays in today’s economy, noting demographic shifts, such as younger workers choosing to live in more walkable transit-rich areas, and also the reality that employers need broad access to workers. Goebel showcased some of the recent achievements of Ohio’s cities and regions, such as the doubling of jobs over a six-year period along Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Health Line. In light of these recent successes, Goebel encouraged participants to think creatively locally, given that state and federal support for transportation is often unpredictable.

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Beth Osborne, of Transportation for America, speaking during the Academy

The Academy welcomed three engaging speakers from the Indianapolis area to discuss their region’s recent transportation reform via an initiative called IndyConnect. Former Mayor Greg Ballard and Mark Fisher of the Indy Chamber discussed their coalition-led project, culminating with a successful ballot initiative that allowed for the broadening and expansion of multimodal transportation, creating new electric BRT lines, and boosting support for other bus, bike, and pedestrian modes. Nicole Barnes of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN), an organization that was part of the coalition, then discussed the role of grassroots advocacy in terms of creating convincing messaging for different key audiences. All three speakers explained that convincing people to vote to expand modes of transportation that some voters perhaps personally may never use should rely on the underlying theme that improved transportation is a crucial economic development tool that connects more hardworking employees with jobs in a more efficient process, which in turn produces secondary benefits to the economy.

During various breakout sessions throughout the day, participants enthusiastically discussed their regions’ goals and how building stronger local transportation systems can help them achieve these goals. Future sessions will continue to build upon these shared goals and visions for Ohio’s regions. Thank you to all participants and staff for a successful first workshop. GOPC would also like to extend a big thank you to MORPC for graciously hosting the first Academy workshop.

Ohio’s FY2018-19 Main Operating Budget Moves to Next Stage; GOPC Offers Recommendations

May 18th, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

Recently, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a drastically different two-year state budget from the one proposed by Governor John Kasich in January. The House budget included roughly $632 million in reductions due to decreased state revenue collections, and so far for the fiscal year FY2016-17, receipts are $773.7 million, or 4.2 percent, below projections. This followed an announcement in April by state leaders that the budget would need to be revised downward by roughly $800 million for the next biennium (FY2018-19).

With passage of the House version, the budget now moves to the Ohio Senate, where additional reductions will be needed to meet the $800 million in cuts. The deadline to approve the budget is June 30, when the current state fiscal year (FY2017) ends. Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC) continues to testify on several changes to be made in HB49, including the following provisions. 

GOPC-Supported Provisions:

- The budget bill provides $4.8 million in annual funding over the biennium for lead remediation and associated testing services for homes under lead hazard orders, ensuring that more properties are made safe for families. This will be done through the use of federal funding available to the state.  GOPC is pleased by the state’s commitment on this important issue and encourages the Legislature to ensure local lead abatement programs are empowered to utilize the funding.

GOPC-Opposed Provisions:

- A House amendment would mandate stickers be affixed to retail service station pumps displaying the rates of federal and state taxes applicable to gasoline and diesel fuel. The stickers would be produced and distributed by the Department of Agriculture at an unknown cost. All pumps would be required to have the stickers affixed within 14 months of the bills effective date and would need to be replaced if damaged or if the state or federal tax rates change. 

- The House reduced funding for public transportation by more than 11% per year for both FY2018 and 2019. This line item provides funding for the Public Transportation Grant Program and the Elderly and Disabled Fare Assistance Program. This line item has been reduced by more than 68% or $17,969,134, since FY2000. 

GOPC’s Proposed Amendments to the Bill:

- GOPC proposes an amendment to make it easier for cities to clean up contaminated brownfield sites.  The proposal would modify Ohio law to make it clear that urban renewal projects can recover the costs of environmental remediation. In an urban renewal project, a municipality and a developer create a development agreement to mitigate a blighted area.  After development begins, the property owner makes service payments in lieu of taxes, based on the increased valuation of the property.  Service payments support bonds that have been issued to support redevelopment costs.

- The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has issued a directive that Ohio cannot continue applying state and local sales taxes on the premiums of Medicaid Managed Care Organizations. HB49 provides for a new service fee to be charged to make-up for lost state revenue, while only providing partial, temporary financial relief to counties and transit agencies. GOPC supports the inclusion of a provision in HB49 that will extend greater financial relief to counties and transit agencies. 

For more complete coverage of the Main Operating Budget, please visit here.

Greater Ohio Policy Center Outlines Budget Priorities

May 2nd, 2017

By Jason Warner, GOPC Manager of Government Affairs

As Greater Ohio continues its advocacy efforts at the Ohio Statehouse, we have recently updated our policy platform as it relates to House Bill 49, the state main operating budget for Fiscal Years 2018-2019.

The full position paper is available here.

To learn more about House Bill 49, including status updates, you can read our April legislative update. 

Build in Akron: Opportunities for Residential Reinvestment in Akron’s Neighborhoods

February 16th, 2017

GOPC report details opportunities for market-rate residential investment in Akron’s neighborhoods

The Build in Akron report, produced with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that many of Akron’s neighborhoods can already support additional market-rate housing and many more could attract new development through strategic interventions that have been employed successfully in other cities in Ohio.

Go Here to read the Report

Build in Akron features a market analysis by DiSalvo Development Advisors that categorizes Akron’s neighborhoods by the kinds of interventions necessary to bolster the housing market. The analysis categorizes neighborhoods into four groups, which are displayed on an interactive map available here. The report found that all neighborhood types have opportunities for regrowth but are at different stages in the market-building process.

Based on interviews with local homebuilders and research about strategies used successfully in similar cities in Ohio, the report also outlines a series of interventions the City of Akron and other stakeholders can use to create the conditions for additional development. These strategies are customized for and targeted to the four neighborhood types and are illustrated with examples of other cities in Ohio that have used them successfully. The strategies are:

  • Concentrate on rebuilding the downtown rental market. A strong downtown rental market not only draws new residents who are looking for urban living options, but creates a pipeline of potential buyers throughout Akron’s neighborhoods.
  • Create additional mixed-use districts to broaden the appeal of urban living. Newer mixed-use developments in Akron have shown that there is pent-up demand for market-rate housing in a dense, urban environment. Mixed-use districts can encourage additional developers to follow suit in investing in a neighborhood.
  • Creatively address the challenges of lower appraised values. As also reported in the City of Akron’s Planning to Grow Akron report, low home values discourage market-rate developers from building in the city. Other cities in Ohio, particularly Youngstown and Cleveland, have found creative ways to strategically address this challenge.
  • Strategically deploy incentives like tax abatements. All similarly-sized cities in Ohio make residential tax abatements available, at least in certain neighborhoods. Research shows that this tool could help boost additional investment in Akron as well, but is unlikely to rebuild market strength without complementary strategies.
  • Find mutual interest with hospitals and health systems in neighborhoods. Hospitals and health systems in Ohio and beyond have a growing interest in promoting strong, healthy neighborhoods through investments in housing and community development.
  • Encourage market-rate and affordable development by community development corporations (CDCs). CDCs have proven to be important, on-the-ground partners for market-rate developers in other Ohio cities. Building the capacity of existing CDCs and supporting the growth of new ones could create opportunities for catalytic investment.
  • Leverage the real-estate development abilities of public or quasi-public agencies. Land banks and port authorities have legal tools and access to funding sources that make them valuable potential partners for residential investment.

Cincinnati Enquirer Publishes GOPC Op-Ed on Recommendations for 21st Century Infrastructure Policies

January 26th, 2017

The Cincinnati Enquirer recently published GOPC Senior Policy Fellow Jon Honeck’s guest column “Here’s how to, and how not to, rebuild America.” In the op-ed, GOPC makes practical recommendations to guide policymakers as they tackle the challenges of keeping the country moving in the 21st Century. 

For the first time in years, the nation’s infrastructure crisis will be a leading issue in Congress. To build on this momentum at the state level, GOPC is advocating for improvements in public transit in the upcoming Ohio Department of Transportation budget. The op-ed recommends that policymakers in Ohio and in Washington should adopt a “fix it first” policy that focuses on maintaining and utilizing existing infrastructure. With this solid foundation in place, we can think creatively about how to finance catalytic projects that think out of the box.

Go here to read the op-ed.

For more information on strategies and policies needed to rebuild Ohio, please see GOPC’s Water Infrastructure and Transportation Modernization Resources for the latest news and tools in these fields, including a report on water infrastructure released last week: Strengthening Ohio’s Water Infrastructure: Financing and Policy.

To learn more about policies and strategies for modernizing Ohio’s water and sewer infrastructure and transportation systems, make sure to attend our 2017 Summit: Investing in Ohio’s Future March 7th and 8th! We hope you join us: Register today!

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy to Keynote GOPC 2017 Summit

January 19th, 2017

The Greater Policy Center (GOPC) is thrilled to announce that our 2017 Summit Keynote Speaker is Tom Murphy, Urban Land Institute Canizaro/Klingbeil Families Chair for Urban Development. Murphy served as Mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2005, and became a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in 2006.

While mayor of Pittsburgh, Murphy initiated a public-private partnership strategy that leveraged more than $4.5 billion in economic development in the city. He developed strategic partnerships to transform more than 1,000 acres of blighted, abandoned industrial properties into new commercial, residential, retail, and public uses, and oversaw the development of more than 25 miles of new riverfront trails and parks. Murphy also served eight terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and is the author of a number of reports that document how communities can leverage limited public resources for dramatic change.

Drawing on his extensive experience in urban revitalization, Murphy will discuss strategies and policies that successfully drive investment and long-lasting impact in weak-market cities of all sizes.

Learn More about Keynote Speaker Tom Murphy on our Bio Page

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Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy. Photo credit: Urban Land Institute 

Register today for GOPC’s 2017 Summit, Investing in Ohio’s Future: Maximizing Growth in our Cities and Regions to attend Murphy’s keynote address and learn from experts, policymakers, and local leaders as they present cutting-edge strategies, new tools, and policy solutions that lay the foundation for building prosperous cities, suburbs, exurbs, and regions in Ohio.The Summit will take place March 7th and 8th, 2017 at the Westin Hotel in downtown Columbus.We look forward to seeing you there!

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Photos Courtesy of (from left): Don Angle Photography, Akron Stock Photos, GOPC (x3), Don Angle Photography

GOPC Updates Analysis on Challenges Facing Ohio’s Smaller Legacy Cities; Presents Findings at CMC

January 17th, 2017

Greater Ohio Policy Center has released an update to its 2016 report From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring? The report examined the economic health of Ohio’s older industrial cities over the last 15 years and recommends proactive state policy solutions to strengthen these places. Newly released 2015 data confirms the general downward trajectory of many key economic indicators in these communities.

  • Ohio’s mid-sized legacy cities – Akron, Canton, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown – resemble their larger neighbors in many ways, including their challenges with entrenched poverty, low household incomes, and substantial rates of housing vacancy and abandonment. But the signs of recovery continuing to emerge in Cleveland and Cincinnati are not apparent in the economic health data of the mid-sized cities.
  • The proportion of adults working or looking for a job – a key indicator of economic health – declined significantly between 2000 and 2015 in small and mid-sized legacy cities.
  • Unemployment rates ticked down in all city types between 2014 and 2015. By 2015, Columbus and the state as a whole recovered their unemployment rates to 2009 levels. Mid-sized legacy cities also approached their unemployment levels at the end of the Recession. However, unemployment levels in all city types and the state as a whole continue to exceed 2000 levels.

GOPC’s research has confirmed that cities that are rebounding invest in place-based assets to revitalize.  To help Ohio’s smaller legacy cities stabilize and thrive, in 2017, GOPC will continue to lead advocacy on a slate of policies that support community redevelopment as routes to economic stability.

As part of GOPC’s recently launched smaller legacy city initiative, Executive Director, Alison D. Goebel, discussed the 2015 findings and GOPC’s policy recommendations at a Columbus Metropolitan Club forum, Big City Problems in Ohio’s Small Towns, which over 140 people attended earlier this week. During the panel, Goebel discussed ongoing challenges, such as economic and population decline, that Ohio’s smaller legacy cities face. To enable these cities to rebound, Goebel emphasized the importance of local civic capacity and the need to invest in both people and place-based assets.

GOPC was joined by Tara Britton, director of public policy and advocacy at the Center for Community Solutions and John Begala, retired executive director of the Center for Community Solutions, and the session was moderated by Karen Kasler of the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau. If you missed the CMC forum, a Video of the whole event has been made available on CMC’s YouTube channel, which can be viewed online for free!

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GOPC’s Executive Director Alison Goebel (right) speaking at the Columbus Metropolitan Club about recent data on smaller legacy cities and strategies for regrowth.

We will be hosting a smaller legacy cities panel along with a whole array of exciting topics during our 2017 Summit: Investing in Ohio’s Future March 7th and 8th! We hope you join us; Register today!