Casino approval tops list of 2009 Ohio storiesWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It was more than two decades in the making.
Voters hit hard in 2009 by the state’s highest unemployment rate in more than 25 years authorized casinos in Ohio’s four largest cities, with the promise of new jobs and money flowing into state and local revenue pots. Issue 3 passed with 53 percent of the vote in the November election, despite voters saying no to gambling proposals four times over the previous 20 years.
The vote, which amended the state Constitution to legalize casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo, was chosen as Ohio’s top story of the year by Associated Press member newspaper editors and broadcasters. A close second was the state unemployment rate hitting 11.2 percent in July, its highest rate since 1983. Cuts made by struggling communities to services and staff, including police and firefighters, came in third.
The passage of Issue 3 made Ohio the 39th state to legalize casinos and was a victory for Penn National Gaming Inc. and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who spent nearly $47 million promoting the proposal as a way to add jobs and revenue to the struggling state economy.
“The reason we did this whole campaign is they told us they wanted casinos in urban cores, wanted jobs, wanted new construction, wanted taxes to stay local, and wanted to make sure it happens here,” Gilbert said as the votes rolled in.
The casinos plan is expected to raise an estimated $650 million in tax revenue, with about 90 percent going to local governments and school districts. The casinos also would each pay a $50 million license fee to the state.
Planners expect they will be built by the end of 2012 or later. Supporters said they would create 34,000 temporary and permanent jobs.
Gov. Ted Strickland was disappointed the issue passed.
“I think if the economy was not facing these recessionary pressures that it would probably not have passed,” Strickland said. “But people are hungry for jobs, and the promise of jobs was what caused them to support this.”
Voters’ nod to gambling came on the heels of seven consecutive months of increases to state unemployment that saw the rate reach double digits before topping out at 11.2 percent in July. Few industries were immune from job losses, with service, administrative and manufacturing areas losing the most as the rate climbed.
But Cleveland economist George Zeller said in March that some parts of the state, including Columbus and Cleveland, lost more jobs in finance and insurance than in manufacturing.
“What this means is that we have two major problems in the economy here in Ohio, and this has never happened before, at least since the ’30s,”he said. “There are the two main bases of the Ohio economy, and we are losing jobs in large numbers in both.”
The job losses hurt local communities that rely on income, sales and property taxes to balance their budgets. Local government boards slashed services and cut jobs, including police and firefighters.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory proposed laying off 135 police officers to help close the city’s $28 million gap, a plan averted in exchange for furloughs but not without Mallory losing the support of the police union in his successful bid for re-election.
Columbus closed or reduced hours at many of its recreation centers, froze salaries of elected officials and nonunion employees and ordered five unpaid days off for all city workers except police and firefighters.
The same story line played out at large and small communities across the state, with a growing number of cash-strapped counties, townships and cities ordering salary freezes and furloughs or combining police forces to shave costs.
The state’s other top stories in 2008:
4. The decomposing remains of 11 women were found in the home of a registered sex offender in Cleveland in October and November. Authorities say Anthony Sowell, 50, lured women addicted to drugs or alcohol into his home and attacked them. Some of the victims had been missing for more than a year. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of murder, rape, assault and corpse abuse and could get the death penalty if convicted of any of the killings.
5. Ohio adopted a new lethal injection protocol in November and was the first state to use one drug for an intravenous lethal injection execution in the U.S. when Kenneth Biros was executed in December. The new protocol also includes a backup method, a two-drug injection into muscle, which has not yet been used.
6. The recession played havoc with state government finances, with lawmakers voting in December to plug an $850 million budget hole by delaying the last in a series of tax cuts that started four years ago. The budget gap was created when the Ohio Supreme Court said voters are entitled to weigh in on an earlier budget-balancing plan to legalize lottery-run video slot machines at horse racing tracks. Seeking to avoid a tax increase or cuts to services, Strickland had proposed the slots plan in June in a reversal to his antigambling stance.
7. Auto plants laid off thousands of workers, closed plants and ordered temporary plant shutdowns as carmakers reorganized. The cuts devastated an Ohio industry that had lost nearly 90,000 auto jobs over the past decade. Ohio is second only to Michigan in the number of jobs tied to the auto industry.
8. As part of the state budget passed in July, Ohio lawmakers included an overhaul of the school-funding system that had been found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court four times. The new system gives aid to school districts based on the cost of funding a high quality education and reduces the amount of funding that comes from local property taxes. Overall, school districts are to see a 5.5 percent increase in funds over two years, due to an infusion of federal money; however, state aid to schools was cut by a quarter of a percent.
9. Gov. Ted Strickland stopped the lethal intravenous injection of Romell Broom in September after executioners tried for two hours to find a usable vein, hitting bone and muscle in as many as 18 needle sticks. It was an unprecedented act by a governor since capital punishment was ruled constitutional in 1976, and came two months before Ohio changed its execution protocol to also allow lethal muscle injections.
10. Package delivery company DHL Express shut down an air shipping operation in southwest Ohio, putting thousands out of work. Most of the 8,000 workers at the Wilmington Air Park lost their jobs when DHL moved the facility to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, more than 50 miles away. The move left a 15 percent local unemployment rate in its wake.