Saturday, October 05, 2002

Luken scolds Ohio Legislature

Big-city mayors want stronger support for urban priorities

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLUMBUS - Railing against what he says is an “anti-city bias,” Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken joined mayors of other big Ohio cities to urge state government to be more responsive to its urban areas.

        At the Ohio Statehouse Friday, they outlined a specific “Ohio Big Cities Agenda,” which includes direct federal funding to cities for homeland security, more state money for local governments and a priority on public education.

        “I am alarmed. I am alarmed at some of the legislative initiatives I've seen coming forward out of the General Assembly,” Mr. Luken said. “Particularly in the Cincinnati region - and we just went through it with our convention center expansion - there seems to be an anti-city rhetoric coming from our suburban legislators, and we want to change that.”

        Mr. Luken joined the mayors of Akron, Dayton, Columbus and Toledo for two days of meetings, which coincided with the Ohio Municipal League's annual conference. Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell did not attend, but said she supported her colleagues.

        Democrats have controlled the state's six largest city halls since last year, when Democrat Rhine McLin defeated Republican Mike Turner in Dayton. Republicans have held control of the Legislature and all executive branch posts since 1994.

        But the meeting wasn't an overtly partisan affair.

        “There's no Republican or Democratic way to pick up garbage,” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. “Yes, we are Democrats. But what we are really talking about is the lives of citizens who don't care whether we're Republicans or Democrats.”

        Indeed, the mayors generally gave credit to Republican Gov. Bob Taft for his Clean Ohio Initiative, which will clear old industrial sites for new economic development.

        The Legislature, however, is a different creature. The mayors criticized what they perceive as a suburban tilt in the General Assembly.

        “In Cincinnati and other cities, we all talk about regionalism,” said Mr. Luken. “Let's face it, the success of our cities is the most important to the success of a region.”

        Specifically, the mayors want no further cuts in state funding for cities. The Local Government Support Fund declined 2.6 percent in 2002, and provides about 10 percent of Cincinnati's general fund.

        “What that translates into is that we have to cut down on services we provide, because we don't have this money,” Ms. McLin said. “Our ultimate survival depends on it.”

        The mayors also want the federal government to deliver $3.5 billion in homeland security assistance directly to the nation's cities “without it going through the state of Ohio, and without it going through some other bureaucracy,” said Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

        “Our police and our fire are the first people on the scene,” he said. “And if there's a disaster in Cleveland, Akron will respond. If there's a disaster in Cincinnati, Dayton will give aid.”

        The meetings in Columbus Thursday and Friday continue from the mayors' first gathering in June at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Madison, Wis. That meeting was the first to include all of Ohio's big-city mayors in at least a generation, during which time political power in the state has shifted to the suburbs.

        Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said if Ohio's cities are going to be heard, they must speak with one voice.

        “This is a historic moment,” Mr. Coleman said. “We want everyone to know we're coming together. We want our constituents to know it, and we want the governor to know it.”


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