Sunday, June 13, 2004

Cincinnati will be a pacesetter
for the nation

A wise man once said: "Never argue with someone who buys ink by the gallon."

But sometimes decisions by editorial writers to ignore facts leave me no choice ("City must get real with deficits," June 10). Since I arrived in the mayor's office, the editorial board has written about "wasteful spending" and "managed competition" often. Seems we can't do much right when it comes to budgeting.

But here are some facts the editorialists refuse to print, even though I have repeatedly brought them to the Enquirer's attention. Facts are, as John Adams said, "stubborn things."

Our economy has outpaced the other large Ohio cities. We provide more services and better services, as measured by the quality-of-life index, and we do that with 400 fewer employees than we had in 1999. We have cut the property tax millage by about 20 percent, which translates to returning about $6 million dollars per year to taxpayers in Cincinnati. We have increased lane miles paved by more than 100 percent as compared with 1999. We have found ways to fund record investments in neighborhoods, recreation centers, the central business district, and the arts. And while other cities in Ohio have been forced to make layoffs, including police and fire, we have made none and actually increased our police compliment.

The most recent fact the Enquirer refused to cover was the decision by national rating agencies to improve our bond rating, which indicates that we are on the right track in terms of fiscal discipline and economic recovery. Not one drop of their gallons of ink about that.

While our debt forecast was gloomy because of health care costs and safety commitments, there was good news in the city forecast which the Enquirer failed to mention. Unemployment is down and is much better than many other cities statewide. Job growth forecasts are strong. Population will continue to decline for the next few years, but at a significantly slower rate.

It is certainly true that we face an uncertain future. But as a result we will continue to look for ways to do more with less and be forced to make increasingly tougher decisions about priorities.

I have looked very carefully at the savings that might be achieved through so-called "managed competition" or "privatization." I have concluded that most of the savings are illusory, unless people are laid off and replaced by workers who earn less and have reduced benefits.

I will not take this city in that direction. Council, by majority vote, can. To do so only contributes to the ranks of the "working poor." Our city should stand for something better. On this one, we must lead by example.

We are not out of the woods by any means. I wish that we had an economy like the ones council dealt with in the '90s, with huge increases in tax revenue from the income tax.

We have no such luxury. But our outlook, particularly long term, is good, and if we continue our job creation and neighborhood investment strategies, we should be a pacesetter for the nation.

Charlie Luken
Mayor of Cincinnati

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