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It's A Free Country ®

Kucinich Looks Forward

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WNYC
I think the American people ought to be fed up with a government that says one thing and does another. And if I do anything and add to this debate, it’s to just call it as I see it, and the way I see it is generally the way it is.

— Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Representative (D) for Ohio's 10th Congressional district, and candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2004 and 2008 elections, on The Brian Lehrer Show.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Kucinich: Searching for a Seat

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Representative (D) for Ohio's 10th Congressional district, and candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2004 and 2008 elections, talks about his congressional future if his district is eliminated in the redistricting process.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Japan Trying to Get A Handle on Infrastructure Damage, LA Passes Sweeping Bus Service Cuts, and Boston Band Powers Concerts with Bikes

Friday, March 25, 2011

Nearly two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, engineers still do not know the full extent of damage to roads, bridges, rail lines and other infrastructure. (NY Times)

Meanwhile, Toyota is warning factories and dealers in North America that production delays are coming, while Nissan is looking for ways around its factory closures in Japan by flipping the supply chain around. (Marketplace)

The Los Angeles MTA approved sweeping bus service cuts, eliminating nine lines and reducing 11. Officials say they are still providing adequate service while making the bus system more efficient; critics say L.A.'s low-income residents will be hurt the most. (Los Angeles Times)

WNYC looks at the 2010 New York census map.

A Boston-based band uses bikes to power their concerts. "One person can sustain about 100 watts without breaking too much of a sweat. Five people can amass enough wattage to power a small live show." (WBUR)

City-funded parking garages at Yankees Stadium have become a "financial swamp for taxpayers," writes a NYDN columnist. "Ever since it opened...two years ago, the 9,000-space parking system has operated at barely 60% capacity, even on game days. Meanwhile, its operating expenses have run twice what was expected."

NJ Transit paid nearly $3.6 million for unused vacation and sick time last year -- even as it raised fares and cut service. Gov. Christie says the agency should go to a 'use it or lose it' policy. (Asbury Park Press)

The Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission made a $10 million commitment to a new $50 million revolving fund for loaning money to developers to build affordable housing near rail stations and bus stops. (San Jose Mercury News)

The Ohio Senate voted to pass a measure banning signs that tout federal stimulus spending along Ohio's roadways. (AP via BusinessWeek)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: As massive bus cuts loom, Long Islanders get emotional at a hearing. A NYC deputy mayor goes on the BL Show to defend the city's bike lane program -- and voice support for the city's transportation commissioner. And: after reports that a former DC Metro employee left the agency to become a lobbyist, the agency's board put the brakes on a contract.

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The Takeaway

Union Battles Spread to Ohio

Monday, February 21, 2011

In Wisconsin, demonstrators are camped out for a seventh day over a state bill that would cut state workers’ ability to bargain collectively. But Wisconsin isn’t the only state where union battles are blazing. In Ohio, state Republicans are promoting measures to cut collective bargaining as an eventual cost-cutting measure as well. Ohio faces an estimated $8 billion budget deficit. Ohio Public Radio State House Reporter Bill Cohen explains the latest.

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The Takeaway

Can Gov. John Kasich Fix Ohio?

Monday, January 10, 2011

We continue our series about incoming governors across the country and the challenges they face. This morning Republican John Kasich will be sworn in as the new governor of Ohio, replacing Democrat Ted Strickland. Ohio is a critical state in national elections. Ohio's population is shifting as local companies move out of the state, and Republican leadership continues to gain control.

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The Takeaway

Rep. John Boehner to Take Gavel as House Speaker

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

With the 112th Congress starting this week, Ohio's Rep. John Boehner is set to take his seat as the new Speaker of the House. What kind of Speaker he'll be remains to be seen. Will he follow in the steps of Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker when Republicans took control of the House back in 1994?

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Transportation Nation

Matching Money Announced for Calif. High Speed Rail Construction

Monday, December 20, 2010

California's High-Speed Rail Authority approved matching funds to the latest round of federal money the state has received. That means the state will match the $616 million slated for California after Ohio and Wisconsin turned it down. With the new federal money and now matching funds, California has $5.5 billion available to begin construction on the high-speed rail project to connect Los Angeles with San Fransisco.

Here's the full press release from California High-Speed Rail Authority:

HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY APPROVES STATE MATCHING FUNDS  TO EXTEND BACKBONE OF STATEWIDE SYSTEM

SACRAMENTO – Moving quickly to take advantage of $616 million in new federal funding, the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted unanimously today to approve committing state matching funds to extend construction of the initial Central Valley backbone of the statewide system south to Bakersfield.

The new federal funds – which were redistributed from other states that returned federal high-speed rail support – will now be coupled with state matching dollars, bringing the total available funds to begin construction to $5.5 billion. The new total will allow engineers to significantly extend initial construction, potentially building as many as 120 miles of the project’s 520-mile first phase, and incorporate the Valley’s largest urban centers: Bakersfield and Fresno.

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Transportation Nation

California High-Speed Rail: All The Way to Bakersfield

Thursday, December 09, 2010

(San Francisco–-Casey Miner, KALW News) Earlier today we reported that the Department of Transportation re-allocated $1.2 billion in high-speed rail money rejected by Ohio and Wisconsin. The largest share of the liberated funding is headed to California. Now officials at the DOT have given us a few more details on how that $654 million in new high-speed rail funds is meant to be spent.

The bulk, $616 million, will go towards extending the first segment of the rail system all the way to Bakersfield, instead of terminating it in Corcoran as was originally planned. The rest of the money will go to Caltrans to improve existing rail transit.

The feds are also asking California to match the $616 million with its own bond funds; rail Authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall said that outlay will still have to be approved by the Authority board. We'll have more on this as the situation develops.

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Transportation Nation

DOT Spreads the Love with Wisconsin's Unwanted Rail Dollars

Thursday, December 09, 2010

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway)  You sure you don’t want it? OK, fine. More for me.

That’s what transportation officials across more than a dozen states were saying to Wisconsin and Ohio today after Washington announced they would spread around their unwanted high speed rail money.

Newly-elected governors in both those states have said “no thanks” to nearly $1.2 billion in stimulus money targeted toward high-speed rail projects. So the Department of Transportation now says the money goes to states that are interested, the bulk of foregone money going to existing projects already begun in California and Florida. Full DOT release here.

DOT also says its opening discussions with Wisconsin and Ohio officials on how and when they’ll pay back federal high-speed rail money they’ve already spent. Similar negotiations with New Jersey over a cancelled rail tunnel are getting litigious and may prove to be an example for Wisconsin and Ohio.

In all, Wisconsin is giving up $810 million for a development of the Milwaukee-Madison corridor, while Ohio will cough up $400 million the “3C” route connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

Wisconsin gets to hold on to up to $2 million—o.oo25 percent of the original amount—for its Hiawatha line. Wisconsin also faces the potential of a further economic hit as Spanish rail manufacturer, Talgo, has said they may move out of Wisconsin taking 40 existing jobs and 85 additional planned jobs.  Those jobs would go to another state if they chose to contract Talgo for train manufacturing with a contract that requires in state production. Job creation is part of why so many states vied for the passed up money from the Midwest.

“I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life,” DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

LaHood had it about right. Florida stands to gain $342.3 million in the deal, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), could barely contain himself in a Thursday afternoon tweet. “Looks like Santa's trading in his sleigh for a bullet train,” Nelson wrote.

Here’s a breakdown of how Wisconsin’s and Ohio’s $1.2 billion will be spread a round, according to DOT:

  • California: up to $624 million
  • Florida: up to $342.3 million
  • Washington State: up to $161.5 million
  • Illinois: up to $42.3 million
  • New York: up to $7.3 million
  • Maine: up to $3.3 million
  • Massachusetts: up to $2.8 million
  • Vermont: up to $2.7 million
  • Missouri up to $2.2 million
  • Wisconsin: up to $2 million for the Hiawatha line
  • Oregon: up to $1.6 million
  • North Carolina: up to $1.5 million
  • Iowa: up to $309,080
  • Indiana: up to $364,980
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The Takeaway

Republicans Reps Likely to Return to Close 2008 Districts

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

In 2008, the Obama wave swept across the country, bringing Democrats to districts that had been Republican strongholds for decades. Democrats acquired a 75 vote majority in the House of Representatives; they currently hold the majority of Representatives' seats in 33 states, compared to Republicans' 16 states.

This year, the electoral tide is shifting and all signs point to Republicans taking back the House during today's election. The first districts likely to go Republican will be those former stronghold "swing seats," such as Ohio's 6th and 18th Districts and Colorado's 3rd, 4th, and 7th Districts.

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Transportation Nation

Transit and Transportation at Stake in Several Key Races

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) We've been closely watching the intersection of transportation and politics on this site.  Here are a few races where transportation may affect the outcome, or where the outcome may affect transportation.

The race: Maryland Governor -- Repub. Bob Ehrlich,  Dem. Martin O’Malley

What's at stake: It's a race of rail vs bus. The two candidates each support extending some form of public transit to the area of Maryland in the Washington D.C. suburbs. O'Malley wants the proposed Purple Line while Erlich prefers a bus plan. Maryland is a deep blue state, so Ehrlich's chances aren't great. But O'Malley isn't hugely popular and this is not a good year for Democrats nationwide, so an upset is always possible and the Purple Line hangs in the balance. (Read more.)

The race: 8th Congressional District, Minnesota -- Incumbent Dem. Jim Oberstar, Chair of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Repub. Chip Cravaack

What's at stake: Congressional control. Oberstar is currently the Chair of the Congressional transportation committee. He's in charge of the purse strings on countless transportation and infrastructure projects around the nation. He's called for a massive transportation funding package that would be less likely to pass without a champion at the helm of transportation committee. Even if Oberstar holds on in this tighter-than-expected race, he may lose his chairmanship if Republicans take control of the House.   The ranking member of the House Transportation Committee is Republican John Mica of Florida, who, like Oberstar, has been a champion of increased transportation funding and high speed rail.  In fact, Mica and Oberstar have joined to assail the Obama administration for not making transportation spending a higher priority.

"I view this as the most critical jobs bill before Congress ... we're going to do it together, one way or another, come hell or high water," Mica said in 2009 of the transportation bill.  But it's unclear how Mica would hew to this agenda with a much more conservative, less spending-friendly congress. (Read more from MPR)

The race: Ohio Governor -- Incumbent Dem. Ted Strickland, Repub. John Kasich

What's at stake: High speed rail spending. Kasich has proposed repurposing the

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Transportation Nation

Wariness about spending on transportation and infrastructure accompanies voters to the polls

Monday, November 01, 2010

Denver Poster on Fare Hikes

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  It's been a rough election season out there.  Unless you've crawled into a cave for the last three months, you know the airwaves have been flooded with ads calling candidates everything from thieves to hooligans to rogues and everything in between.   But the sour voter mood isn't just about advertisements -- it's about reduced circumstances, drastic cuts in local government services, higher taxes and fees, fewer jobs, and dramatically higher health care costs -- despite  health care reform and an $800 billion stimulus bill.

Or as one Florida election volunteer Marcia told me in a largely African American neighborhood in Tampa last week:  "People are disappointed," she said. "They thought they were going to have this magic wand that I'm going to save my home because we have Obama as President.  And I'm going to have a job because we have Obama as President."   But then, people lost their jobs, and they lost their homes.

"Where's the change?" retired Hoovers vacuum worker Alice Prestier asked me in Canton, Ohio.  Or, more bitterly, as one Colorado contractor told me in Loveland, Colorado:   “I don’t need to spend $2,000 to support every illegal f*****g Mexican in this country. Nor do I need to keep busting my ass for this government. You know, my son can’t ride the bus to school anymore.  He’s got to walk two miles to school, explain that to me!  You know, why does education have to go, but yet we can support illegals, we can piss money away on stuff that doesn’t’ matter, a health care plan that will never work?"

All of which has created a wary public, seemingly unwilling to spend on big transit projects like the ARC tunnel, high speed rail, or even roads.    Even though the President has bracketed this campaign season with a call for $50 billion in additional spending on roads, rails, and airports and the distribution, last week, of some $2.5 billion in high speed rail grants, kitchen-table cut backs have spilled over into an attitude about government spending.  Where once voters seemed to have faith that large infrastructure projects would create jobs, both in the long and short terms, they now worry that worthy as projects may be, there simply isn't enough money to spend on things like new transit tunnels, high speed rail systems, or even roads.

The Democratic Senate candidate in Colorado, Michael Bennet, was an early defector from the Obama Labor Day plan, and voters -- Republicans, Democrats --  told me that was "about right."

“It should all be fixed,” Debbie Horoschock told me at the Wilkes-Barre farmers market in late September" of the president’s proposal to spend money fixing rail, roads, and airports. So she thinks that would be a good thing to spend money on? “No. But they should be fixed.” How are they going to be fixed without money? “I don’t know how they are going to be fixed without money. But we need money to fix the damn roads.”

High speed rail, actually pilloried by some candidates (Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio) gets a lot more raised eyebrows.  "They just shouldn't be spending on that project," one Ohio retiree  in downtown Canton who wouldn't give her name told me.  Even if that meant losing hundreds of millions of federal money coming straight to this depressed area?  "Even so."

There are some bright spots for those who support big transit projects.  In Colorado, the Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, John Hickenlooper, who made his bones pushing a sales tax for transit when he first became Mayor of Denver, in 2004, is leading in most polls, and his support of a sales tax is drawing some crossover support. And in Tampa, a similar measure is intriguing some voters who are supporting Marco Rubio, the Tea Party-backed candidate for U.S. Senate.  The logic seems to be in how the tax is paid--it's a pay-as-you-go tax, not a large, one-time, acquisition of debt, much disfavored this election year.

Transportation Nation has been out in swing counties this election season. What we've learned about how America wants to build its future has been surprising, enlightening, sometimes harsh, and always deeply, deeply educational.  Everyone looking at how government should address these questions in the next Congress should be reading these posts.  In order of our visits:

Luzerne County, Pennsylvania

Weld County, Colorado and Jefferson County, Colorado

Stark County, Ohio

Jackson County, Michigan

Hillsborough County, Florida

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It's A Free Country ®

The Election Mood in Changeable Ohio

Friday, October 15, 2010

WNYC

WNYC's Andrea Bernstein continues her reporting from swing counties this election season with a stop in Canton, Ohio. The Rust Belt community has taken some hard knocks in the recession, and after going for Obama in 2008, voters here are tired, frustrated, and once again, getting barraged with negative political ads. 

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Transportation Nation

Election Report: Ohio: Get the Jobs First, then Spend on Infrastructure

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Canton, Ohio — Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Once, people believed in Canton Ohio. Its Palace Theater hosts statues of gods and goddesses in the balcony boxes. Its Canton Tower has deco details like a mini-Rockefeller center. But now it’s mostly boarded up.

In the last decades, large employers have, one by one, pulled up stakes and left Canton, nestled where the cornfields begin to meet the Appalachian foothills. “Ford Company. Bliss Company. Hercules. Canton Stamping. Canton Provisions.” Alice Prestier, who worked at Hoover’s Vacuum (also gone) for 30 years, ticks off names. “There were a lot of companies around here. We lost them all. Everything is gone.”

Alice Prestier: "Where's the Change?"

Prestier is standing in the Walmart SuperCenter parking lot in Canton, after putting away her groceries. “People are just desperate. They want to eat. They want to feed their children. They want to take care of their families. It’s gotten to that place,” Prestier told me, recounting a story she’d just heard on the radio warning people to lock their cars when they bought groceries because people were roving the parking lots, looking for ways to feed their families.

Canton’s in Stark County, Ohio, a classic swing district. This county voted for Obama in 2008, Bush in 2000. In 2008, Democrat John Boccieri, a former state legislator and Air Force Major, won an open Congressional seat, after 18-term Republican Ralph Regula retired. Now Boccieri is struggling to retain his seat, in an environment where thinking for the long term seems next to impossible.

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The Takeaway

Districts in Play: Ohio's 16th District

Thursday, October 14, 2010

We have just a few weeks left until voters head to the polls for the midterms. Takeaway political correspondent Andrea Bernstein has been searching out districts across the country that are hotly contested. She is just back from Stark County, Ohio, where the 16th Congressional district is turning into a political battleground. In 2008, the district went for Sen. John McCain, but elected Democrat John Boccieri to its Congressional seat.

 

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The Takeaway

Voters Turn Against Democrats in Ohio Swing District

Thursday, October 14, 2010

(Canton, Ohio) Alice Prestier has lived in these parts all her life, raising her children and grandchildren here. For 30 years, she worked for Hoover's vacuum company. “If they would have told me that Hoover's was going to go out of business I would have never believed it.  Not a company that big. You got too many big companies that just left Canton, Ohio. And this was a nice booming town.”

She ticks off the employers that have left Canton in recent years. “Ford Company. Bliss Company.  Hercules. Canton Stamping. Canton Provisions. There was a lot of companies around here. We lost them all. Everything’s gone.” (READ MORE)

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Transportation Nation

Houston Voters Back Red Light Cameras

Monday, September 13, 2010

Red light cameras have emerged as a hot button issue this election season. The cameras -- posted at intersections and designed to enforce traffic laws -- perfectly embody this election season's tensions. Proponents say they encourage safer driving, saving lives. But opponents find them intrusive and feel enraged by the fees and fines a red light camera sets off.

In Ohio, Republican Matt Brakey has gained traction by protesting the cameras.

So it's interesting find that Houston -- where drivers have an average 40 mile-commute to work, the nation's longest -- actually likes red light cameras. A 11-News/KUHF survey finds by a 11-point margin -- with just four percent undecided, Houstonians from all walks of life -- Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal -- like red light cameras.

"This is a big departure from what we’ve seen in other parts of the country, particularly just up the road in College Station, where this went up in defeat,” Prof. Bob Stein, 11 News’ political analyst, tells the station's news team.

Why is that, Houstonians? (-Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)

Full story here.

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The Takeaway

Obama's Ohio Speech: Strong New Proposals, Or Too Little Too Late?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

President Obama gave a sweeping economic address to a handpicked crowd of 800 people near Cleveland, Ohio yesterday… partly to announce several new economic proposals, partly to try to set a new tone for the midterm election campaigns. 

It was his second speech on the economy this week; in it, he proposed $180 billion dollars in new business tax breaks and infrastructure spending, to get businesses spending and hiring again. 

But even if Congress passes the proposals, would they be enough to turn the economy around in a substantial way? And will it do anything to improve fortunes for the Democrats heading into the November 2nd elections?

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The Takeaway

Pending Ohio Execution May Spur Review of Death Penalty System

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On Sept. 15, Ohio death row inmate Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed, unless his defense team can get clemency granted to their client before then. Keith was convicted of murdering three people in February of 1994. He maintains he is innocent, has alibis who confirm his story, and some question the testimony delivered by the key eyewitness. His execution, plus another scheduled to take place today in Ohio, would put that state on track for having the second most executions this year, after Texas. 

But cases like Keith's have prompted several high-level officials to call for a comprehensive review of Ohio's death row cases.

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Transportation Nation

LaHood: States Should Spend Faster

Friday, June 18, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  President Barack Obama travels to Columbus , Ohio today to cut the ribbon on the 10,000th Recovery Act highway project.   The move, clearly timed to emit some good news in the cloud of BP spill-related bad news, was heralded Thursday in a conference call by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Biden's Chief Economist, Jared Bernstein.

LaHood said the news could be even better.  "The problem is getting the governors to enter into contracts through their Departments of Transportation to get these contracts awarded so people can be hired."

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