April 26th, 2016

roldo tom nast 160425

It’s been going on for years now. Public decisions privately made.

It’s so ordinary that it seems natural.

Private interests create the public agenda. For private advantage. Insuring it’s paid for with mostly public dollars. Making sure the dollars weigh most heavily upon common people. Regressive taxes are favorites. Meaning ordinary people pay greater shares of the cost. Much greater.

A city under the thumb. Cleveland as long as I’ve known it.

Those who make these choices aren’t censured or punished. They’re applauded. And give themselves raises.

The only source that has the resources to reveal it is the Plain Dealer.

But it’s not into ruffling power. With few exceptions the paper’s leaders are treading water.

So we have Mayor Frank Jackson in his state of the city speech talking about how “all” should share in city’s prosperity. What nonsense.

He hasn’t been in a sharing mood for 10 years.

He said that “Cleveland success cannot be measured in construction projects, restaurants in destination neighborhood or political conventions.” Is he mad? That’s all it is measured by.

But, he says, it’s measured in citizens sharing prosperity. Then Jackson pitched for a renewal of a school tax and an increase in the very regressive payroll tax. It’s not amusing. Sharing in the burden only.

County Executive Armond Budish followed with a state of the county speech with the same theme: “The prosperity of the county must be shared by all of us.” Really?

Is this now the favorite song here?

He announced a $12 million private charity input for pre-kindergarten education. How exciting. $12 million?

What utter bullshit from our two top leaders.

Meanwhile, the city and county are flooding subsidies in the hundred millions of dollars.
And have been doing it for years and years. (A tote of hundreds of millions in give-aways here.)

I opened the paper (PD) recently to find this allocation of public funds:
Projects receiving more than $1 million:

• $14.6 million for the Fenn Hall Addition at Cleveland State University
• $10 million for structural concrete repairs at Cuyahoga Community College
• $7.5 million for Cleveland State’s School of Film, Television, and Interactive Media
• $5 million for renovations at Tri-C
• $3.5 million for the lakefront pedestrian bridge ($8.5 million requested)
• $3.3 million for the Museum of Natural History’s expansion project ($5 million requested)
• $2.5 million for Irishtown Bend stabilization ($2.5 million requested)
• $2 million for Flats East development ($8.1 million requested)
• $1.1 million for Cleveland Orchestra renovations at Severance Hall
• $1.1 million for the Cleveland Museum of Art West Campus
• $1 million for Lake Link Trail & Wendy Park Bridge ($1 million requested)
• $1 million for Playhouse Square Parking District improvements ($4 million requested)
• $1 million for the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum ($2 million requested)
• $1 million for a Health Education Campus for Cleveland Clinic/Case Western Reserve

What struck me as maybe typical was who proposed the requests – not the county, not the city nor the recipients but the Greater Cleveland Partnership. A private corporate group.

I find it extremely disturbing that the Greater Cleveland Partnership, not the city of Cleveland, not Cuyahoga County or any other public body, but a private organization, made up almost exclusively of corporate members, was allowed to submit projects for funding of some $68 million, $54.6 million approved, for this area.

The funding, according to a Plain Dealer report, covered 17 institutions, schools and other local projects. The funds will be provided by the State of Ohio.

Why would a private institution be given the right to make such public requests? Among the selected projects are entities that deserve funding.

However, I see no funds requested for low income neighborhoods, organizations serving the poor or many deserving institutions working to lessen the plight of the disadvantaged.

The GCP’s non-profit IRS 2014 (latest filing) report describes its role as “business association mobilizing private sector leadership, expertise and resources.” It lists 87 directors. Not even one is publicly-elected official. No one you voted to lead. Boss Joe Roman has his total annual take up to $560,000. Back in the 1970s top guy Campbell Elliot got one dollar under $50,000.

How the 1 percenters have scored.

How is it then that this private organization provides the listing of this area’s public project needs for public funding? Who monitors and guides the selection?

How out of sync are we?

Indeed, in the past the county itself, under Seth Taft, George Voinovich and Bob Sweeney, donated to the predecessor of the GCP—the Growth Association, which became Cleveland Tomorrow—$100,000. The IRS filing once had to list contributors but doesn’t now. So we don’t know who does the financing. Back in 1978 I listed contributors and they included the Cleveland Press and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The supposed monitors were financial contributors. How nice.

The corporates know how to manipulate the public sector.

Ten years later I wrote, “The Cleveland Establishment finds itself in a rather embarrassing position. It’s coming close to the time it has to pay off some $25 million in bonds. And it doesn’t have the money.” The need arose from the Greater Cleveland Dome Stadium Corp. purchase of the Central Market area.

What pay your own bills? When you can get someone else to do it.

The problem was ‘solved’ some years later by the corporate push for the sin tax. The bill for the land was simply added to the cost of Gateway. It was $40 million by then.
No problem when you are making the public’s decisions. You don’t pay.

I found recently that the same forces were responsible for the quarter percent increase in the sales tax by Cuyahoga County. The worse tax on ordinary people.

The Establishment had a hard time coming up with the financial wherewithal for a new convention center. I attended many meetings of a committee formed to find a way to obtain a new convention center. It was tough to get another free ride.

So someone came up with the idea that Cleveland would outmaneuver the rest of the U.S.
A. and have the first Medical Mart, a place where creative people would produce a high tech bonanza here. Great! A sales gimmick!

It has been fancifully renamed the Global Center for Health Innovation. It still limps.
Now the PD tells us here is what Budish is offering at the Global Center. A contest:
“Winners will be awarded cash, space at the Global Center for Healthcare Innovation and mentoring from other tenants in the building, Budish said.”
More wishful thinking. In the newspaper it sounds serious.

Now we have to remember that the old County Commission voted the quarter percent sales tax. No public vote. Hell with them. It is bringing in some $20 million a year and will last (if no extensions but we know about that) 40 years. That seems to add to $80 million. Unless taxable items might rise in cost.
I was told by a knowledgeable County official that other taxes were discussed. Fairer taxes, less regressive taxes. They were turned down. Why? Because the Corporate community wanted the money NOW. Pronto. So essentially they left it in the lap of a lapdog – Tim Hagan. He had been so cooperative with the sin tax another bad tax went down easy for him.

It’s all about shifting the cost of the corporate agenda to you.

You can expect City Council to follow Mayor Jackson’s cause of increasing the payroll tax. Council members will sell the same old song – suburbanites will pay. As if they aren’t people. And as if no one in Cleveland works. And as if other communities won’t follow with their payroll tax increased.

What’s left of the news media will back it for the same reasons.

And that’s the way the merry-go-round goes round.

We lack an active citizenry. We’re overflowing with active gimmies.

By Roldo Bartimole…

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