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Cincinnati Streetcar Referendum, Issue 9 (2009)

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The Cincinnati Streetcar Referendum, Issue 9 was on the November 3, 2009 ballot in Hamilton County for Cincinnati voters. If a majority of the city's voters had voted in favor of it, the referendum would have require that, in the future, any kind of passenger rail service paid for by the City of Cincinnati would have had to first be approved by a city-wide vote. Such plans would have to be put on a ballot, and voters would be allowed to say whether they wanted the city to go ahead with the plan.

The referendum came in direct challenge to Mayor Mark Mallory and the City Council's plans to move forward with a streetcar project for the city of Cincinnati. The streetcar is estimated to cost approximately $200 million. City officials said that they hope to cover the cost using both private investment dollars and federal stimulus money.[1]

A "yes" vote on Issue 9 would have required another vote before a streetcar system can be funded and built. A "no" vote on Issue 9 will allow the city officials to embark on a streetcar project without additional voter approval.

Election result

Cincinatti Street Car Referendum (Issue 9)
Result Votes Percentage
Defeatedd No 38132 56.18%
Yes 29740 43.82%
Total votes 67872 100.00%
Voter turnout 30.87%

[2]

Ballot summary

Approved by the Cincinnati City Council on September 2, 2009, the ballot language reads as follows:

Shall the Charter of the City of Cincinnati be amended to prohibit the city, and its various boards and commissions, from spending any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the city and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same by enacting new Article XIV?[3]

Ballot language debate


Mark Miller argues for a "yes" vote on Issue 9
Ballot language for the trolley referendum was the subject of much controversy in summer 2009. Referendum supporters argued that opponents attempted to change the ballot language in their favor. Chris Finney, co-founder of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), said, "If they mess with the language, we'll be in court in a heartbeat."

A draft of the recommended ballot language read as follows: "Shall the Charter of the City of Cincinnati be amended to prohibit the city, and its various boards and commissions, from spending any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g. a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the city and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same?"[4]

Ballot measure opponents argued that the parenthetical use of "trolley" and "streetcar" should be eliminated because it narrows the scope of the ballot measure's impact and may confuse voters. If approved, the measure would affect not only future trolleys and streetcars but all passenger rail projects.[5]

However, on September 1, 2009, the ballot language was left untouched and submitted to the city council, who approved the language on September 2nd.[3]

Supporters of a "yes" vote

Those who advocate for a "yes" vote on Issue 9 include the We Demand A Vote Coalition, comprised of the Cincinnati Chapter of the NAACP, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, and other groups. They gathered signatures to place the referendum on the ballot beginning in February 2009. U.S. Rep. Tom Luken, honorary chairman of the initiative, said, "It's not a transportation item in any way. It's a toy." The group argues that the project will cost not only money up front to sponsor the project but will also require more money for operation and maintenance down the road.[6] Another supporter of the ballot measure is the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).[4]

Supporters of a "no" vote


Wade Johnston argues for a "no" vote on Issue 9
However, not all agree with the referendum. Cincinnatians for Progress argues that the potential stop to the streetcar project could stop economic progress in the city. The relatively new group to the Cincinnati area has the support of not only the mayor but also seven of the nine city council members. “We can’t limit the ability of the city to even entertain different forms of transportation,” said Rob Richardson, co-chairman of the group. “This is really about being a city that’s economically competitive.”[7]

In late June, economic reports revealed that the city is facing a $20 million deficit. Rail-line supporters noted that although the project is expected to attract new jobs and promote economic progress, the city's economic status makes the argument for the streetcar that much harder. Councilman Chris Bortz said, "It's going to make it more difficult to explain to voters, to the city, why, especially at a time like this, a streetcar system is so important."[8]

Former city mayors have also come out against the referendum, stating that a vote against this would be better because it would leave city officials to decide on the matter, how it should be. It does not make sense, in their opinion, to have a city vote on every item of repair or change made to the streets, this just ties up the government. The better solution is to vote in council members and other officials that you can trust to make the right choices, otherwise they are not able to do the jobs they were elected for.[9]

Lawsuit

On May 21, 2009 the Buckeye Institute filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city of harassing citizens who gathered signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Additionally, the institute and referendum supporters requested a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the city and its employees from interfering with signature-gathering.[10][11]

Path to the ballot

Signatures

On July 1, 2009 ballot measure proponents announced that they have collected enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.[1] In May Chris Smitherman, president of the NAACP in Cincinnati, another supporter of the referendum, said in May 2009 that the groups had gathered a total of 3,302 valid signatures. Supporters are required to gather at least 6,150 signatures by September 4, 2009 in order to place the referendum on the ballot.[12]

External links

References

Additional reading