Akron Beacon Journal. Feb. 14, 2021.
Editorial: What are lawmakers waiting for? Repeal corrupt HB 6 now and start over. Expel Householder.
What will it take to knock down House Bill 6, a corrupt Ohio law which still stands like the coal-fired smokestacks of old?
Well, after nearly eight months of waiting, it appears Ohio Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Romanchuk, is advancing. That’s good news for consumers, as it would formally remove one form of electric utility subsidy and provide refunds to electric utility customers. However, coal and nuclear subsidies would stay and renewable energy provisions would remain dead.
Background:How the FBI claims Larry Householder corruptly parlayed $60M into a $1.3B energy bailout, personal gain
HB 6 remains polluted by a $61 million bribery scandal tied to its support and passage. Federal investigators allege FirstEnergy Corp., known as “Company A” in court filings, bribed former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Perry County, and others to pass the bill that allows a $1 billion-plus rate-payer bailout of two nuclear power plants and other operations once owned by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.
The conspiracy continues to grow. On Feb. 5, representatives of the political group Generation Now signed a guilty plea acknowledging it was part of a criminal conspiracy with Householder, who was arrested in July, and others. Those others include lobbyists for FirstEnergy and its former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions. Two men also have pleaded guilty in the case.
In some quarters, including this editorial page, House Bill 6 was hailed in 2019 for helping to keep the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants online. Nuclear energy is a reliable source for Ohio and is considered clean energy. The two Lake Erie plants employ thousands of people, as well.
In written testimony in support of Senate Bill 10, Greg R. Lawson, research fellow at the Buckeye Institute think tank, called HB 6′s decoupling provisions, a type of subsidy, egregious for locking in “the highest possible cost to consumers for the maximum benefit of one company — FirstEnergy.”
The Buckeye Institute, a conservative free market public policy supporter, says SB 10 is a step in the right direction but “does not repeal the bailouts or all that was wrong with House Bill 6.”
The Nature Conservancy, in its written testimony, also calls SB 10 a step forward, but adds it doesn’t come close to addressing the “myriad” of shortcomings in the state’s energy policies. The nonpartisan conservancy group urges the state to work with “businesses and manufacturers, municipalities, environmental and conservation groups, consumer advocacy agencies” and others in crafting an energy plan for the state.
Even if one agrees that FirstEnergy subsidiary Energy Harbor (formerly FirstEnergy Solutions) needs a subsidy to keep its aging nuclear plants online as a reliable, clean source of electricity, Ohio lawmakers should try again. Scandal taints HB 6 and the House, where Householder remains a representative.
In Coshocton County, one of the three counties in Householder’s 72nd District, elected officials are now calling on House Speaker Bob Cupp to remove Householder and name a replacement. The leaders, including all three Coshocton County commissioners and the city of Coshocton’s mayor, say he is no longer an effective voice for his constituents.
The Ohio General Assembly needs to work for Ohioans. Rewriting this legislation and removing a lawmaker under indictment should be priorities.
The scandal of HB 6 is not the only concern.
Ohio needs an energy policy that takes into consideration jobs, price and climate change. A new president is in office, and surely “clean energy” will be discussed with incentives offered to entrepreneurs.
Must Ohio cling to the past, with a scandalous bill guiding its energy policy?
Youngstown Vindicator. Feb. 12, 2021.
Editorial: First part of GM settlement to bear fruit
The first fruits of a settlement agreement between Ohio and General Motors are starting to come to bloom — as part of job training efforts in the Mahoning Valley.
In an agreement struck after the automaker pulled out of Lordstown in 2019, breaking job creation and retention tax credit contracts, GM agreed to pay back about $40 million of the $60.3 million it had received in tax breaks to retool its former assembly plant in Lordstown. Of that, $12 million was dedicated for use in the Mahoning Valley.
As part of the negotiated agreement to make up for that loss, GM committed $5 million to Youngstown State University for workforce development in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College and funding to create the YSU Energy Storage Innovation and Training Center.
Also in the settlement pact, Lordstown Village will receive $3 million for the design and construction of a new water tower to enhance service and add capacity for future growth; Eastgate Regional Council of Governments receives $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements to prepare for economic growth and new jobs, including the development of a proposed Lordstown Smart Transit Corridor along state Route 45 into Warren; and the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition will receive $1.5 million to support community workforce skills development in support industries that will develop as a result of investments. MVMC will partner with America Makes and BRITE Energy Innovators.
The settlement also required the automaker to repay $28 million in tax credits to Ohio.
GM is to complete the $12 million investment and refund the $28 million by the end of 2022.
This week, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced the university, through its Center for Workforce Education and Innovation, intends to use some of the funds to invest in programs and services focusing on inclusion and equality to best serve the unemployed and underemployed.
“We need to remove the barriers to help those individuals to compete and to win in what we call the race to employability,” said Jennifer Oddo, executive director of strategic workforce education and innovation at YSU.
Additionally, some of the money also will be spent on the creation of the YSU Energy Storage Innovation and Training Center to support emerging technology industries in the Mahoning Valley by helping provide a capable workforce.
We are thrilled to see this well-deserved money coming to our area, and we are even more pleased to see it being targeted to help fund programs and services that zero in on equality for the underemployed.
Some of the money also will go to the creation of the YSU Energy Storage Innovation and Training Center to support emerging technology industries here by helping to train potential workers.
Although the innovation and training center is still in the concept and development stage, our business writer Ron Selak Jr. reports that Tressel envisions a brick-and-mortar facility closer to Voltage Valley. Of course, Voltage Valley is the exciting new name being given to Trumbull and Mahoning counties because of the investments in energy storage and electric vehicle industries.
Ground zero for Voltage Valley is Lordstown, where General Motors is partnering with South Korea’s LG Chem to build a $2.3 billion plant to mass produce electric vehicle battery cells and where Lordstown Motors Corp. is preparing to launch its electric truck, the Endurance, from where GM made automobiles for 53 years.
The investments coming here as part of the tax settlement will assist in continuing to make our Mahoning Valley a developing hub for technology and electric vehicle manufacturing.
We have no reason to believe that GM won’t continue to build and grow its relationship with Ohio and, more specifically, with Trumbull County and the Mahoning Valley. Indeed, we expect the upcoming new Ultium Cells LLC battery-cell manufacturing plant to play a critical role in GM’s evolution to all-electric vehicle manufacturing.
The payback of these funds by GM is just the beginning of what we hope will be a continued long relationship.
Cleveland Plain Dealer. Feb. 10, 2021.
Editorial: Armond Budish’s unjustifiable end run around process for siting new County Jail
In November, following years of acrimony between Cuyahoga County’s executive and judicial branches over the future of the county’s aging Justice Center and County Jail, the formerly feuding sides made two critical -- and unanimous -- decisions.
A broadly representative 20-member committee that included county administration officials, county judges and others all agreed that a new County Jail should be built outside the immediate downtown area. And, that the courthouse portion of the Justice Center will remain downtown.
It was a huge accomplishment for a process that too frequently had descended into rancor and cross-accusations between Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and the county judges and county prosecutor.
Questions still remain over the jail project’s costs -- likely to run into the hundreds of millions -- including where those funds will come from and whether the city of Cleveland will chip in and, if so, by how much.
Nonetheless, in November, the committee also gave its real estate consultants the green light to start looking for sites around the county, subject to certain planning constraints, such as cost, acreage, accessibility to highways, quick transit to the downtown courthouse and other factors. Recently, 28 potential sites were identified and presented to the committee.
But there was a hitch. A member of the joint committee -- County Council member Michael Gallagher -- heard from Allegro Realty principal Damon Taseff that Budish had been maneuvering behind the scenes to push sites in East Cleveland.
Both Gallagher and County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley complained publicly about what they saw -- understandably -- as an attempt by the county executive to undermine the joint process. East Cleveland also didn’t meet some core criteria, since it isn’t near a highway exit or near downtown.
Budish’s chief of staff, Bill Mason, the former county prosecutor, chided Gallagher and others for raising the issue, saying it could push up real estate costs if it became publicly known where the county was looking.
But Mason was aiming the wrong way with his criticism. It’s not Budish’s office that’s looking. It’s the joint committee that’s supposed to be in charge.
If Budish wanted East Cleveland sites looked at specifically, he should have brought that up with the larger group.
In a Monday meeting with our editorial board, Budish denied that he acted “secretly” or improperly, since he said the final decision still rests with the joint committee. Budish said he pushed East Cleveland for economic development reasons, because the virtually broke suburb could use the income tax proceeds and ancillary traffic to stores and restaurants.
But that’s not economic development. That’s saddling a poor suburb near Cleveland’s booming University Circle with a jail that could discourage future development.
More pertinently, did Budish’s intrusion into the process improperly push other good sites off the table? And -- given that few doubt that the most likely sites are near existing correctional facilities just south of downtown -- what did Budish hope to achieve by his interference?
Just the fact we have to ask those questions shows how wrong Budish’s actions were. He undercut a process that -- for taxpayers’ sakes -- needs to be as cooperative, transparent and collegial as possible.
Editor’s note: This editorial was updated at 10:45 a.m. to name the real estate executive who informed Michael Gallagher, a County Council member serving on the joint committee, of County Executive Armond Budish’s request that the real estate consultant target sites in East Cleveland.
Toledo Blade. Feb. 10, 2021.
Editorial: Bridge Ohio’s broadband divide
The divide between the digital haves and digital have nots was already stark before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Now that being able to work, attend school, and shop from home using the internet is even more essential than ever, Ohio must make sure that everyone in the state has the ability to access broadband.
Gov. Mike DeWine has called for a substantial broadband investment in his newly released two-year state budget.
The governor’s proposal would establish the $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Grant program, devoting $125 million each in 2022 and 2023 to expand broadband access.
And while $250 million is likely not nearly enough to address the entire problem, the grant program will be helpful for many underserved communities who can use the state money to meet matching requirements for larger federal grants.
There are about 1 million people in Ohio who do not have internet access. In the 21st century, that’s unworkable. And while the southeastern portion of the state is often recognized as the worst affected, plenty of rural northwest Ohio communities and some urban Toledo neighborhoods need help too.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has described the frustrations of families in which parents are trying to work from home and multiple children are trying to participate in school from home, while the inadequate internet connection to their home only allows one of them to be online at a time.
That scenario plays out around Ohio every day and it isn’t acceptable.
Lack of broadband access is actually an old problem. The Federal Communications Commission was charged by Congress in 2009 to come up with a plan to make the service universally available. More than a decade later, the problem remains and it disproportionately impacts poor and rural households.
A study by the Pew Research Center found that about one-quarter of rural Americans do not have high-speed internet service either because it isn’t available or it is too expensive.
Being able to access reliable internet service is not a frill. The infrastructure that makes this possible is no less vital than the roads and bridges, water service, electricity, and other utilities.
As with many other societal issues, the coronavirus pandemic revealed the problem of lacking broadband access in Ohio for what it was -- a disparity between urban and suburban areas and the more remote rural communities. This is a problem Ohio must address and the governor’s plan for broadband investment is a good place to start.
Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. Feb. 10, 2021.
Editorial: Rochester is right to fight for lower speed limit
The Chronicle-Telegram Editorial Board
Feb 10, 2021 5:00 AM
The Ohio Department of Transportation might have the law on its side, but Rochester Mayor Cindy Kurpely has common sense on hers.
That’s why she is taking on an ODOT edict that would raise the speed limit on state Route 511 from 35 mph to 50 mph through most of her tiny village. If ODOT gets its way, 35 mph would apply only to a 0.4-mile stretch through the center of town.
As Kurpely noted, motorists are unlikely to slow down all that much once they realize how compact the 35-mph zone is.
Nevertheless, ODOT insisted that state law requires higher speed limits on the north and south sides of the village. Kurpely said those areas include a blind hill and a curve, both of which are near school bus stops. There’s also slow-moving farm equipment to consider, as well as the telephone pole she said was recently “taken out” by a motorist.
It’s not as if Rochester wants to keep the lower limit as a speed trap. The village, which has about 175 residents, doesn’t have its own police department and is remote enough in southwestern Lorain County that traffic enforcement is sporadic.
In other words, it’s a safety issue.
ODOT has remained unimpressed with the village’s arguments and insisted that taking the curve and hill at 50 mph is not only safe but mandated by the Ohio Revised Code. ODOT discovered “the problem” with the 35-mph limit while it was reviewing speed signs for replacement.
As ODOT’s Jeremy Adato explained to Kurpely in an email he sent in December:
“However, please know that the existing speed limits are not in compliance with the ORC, speed violations issued could be challenged in court, and Rochester Village will be responsible for maintaining their own signs within the Village along State Route 511. ODOT cannot maintain signs that are not ORC compliant.”
Kurpely told us that because Village Council won’t agree to the change, the village will keep the speed limit as it is despite the cost of maintaining the signs and the enforcement headaches that will entail.
She also said there was no real way to appeal ODOT’s decision. She’s reached out to state Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, for help, but hadn’t heard back as of Tuesday.
“Why should we have to do something illegal to keep our residents safe?” Kurpely asked.
It’s a reasonable question.
Then there was the almost cavalier way in which Adato dismissed the village’s desire to keep the speed limit as is.
“If it is true that most vehicles are traveling significantly above the posted speed limit, that is a testament to the fact that the current posted speed limit is not correct,” Adato wrote. “The speed limit laws are designed to be reasonable and self-enforcing for the majority of motorists. Studies show that most drivers travel at a speed they are comfortable with, regardless of what is posted. That is one reason why speed limit laws and speed zone studies take into account the existing operating speed.”
By that logic speed limits should be raised on every street, road, boulevard and highway in the state.
Does anyone really believe that most drivers keep their speedometer locked at 65 mph on Interstate 90? Most motorists routinely exceed the speed limit by five to 10 miles per hour and sometimes go beyond that.
Kurpley predicted that speeding and safety issues would only get worse if the village were to agree to the increase.
She’s right, which is why ODOT should reconsider the village’s request to keep the 35-mph limit in place.
Besides, Rochester is a nice little village worth slowing down to see.