Oct 29, 2021 - Politics
Issue 7: Mayor warns of "greatest scheme in city history"
Illustration of a wind turbine blowing money
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Columbus leaders are working to defeat an upcoming city ballot issue seeking to divert $87 million in taxpayer dollars to a shadowy green energy group.

Why it matters: Issue 7, if approved in next Tuesday's election, would cost the city around 10% of its annual general revenue fund, likely leading to significant budget cuts in public services.

How it works: The ballot issue would create a "Columbus Clean Energy Partnership Fund" to allocate $57 million in city funds toward electric bill subsidies for local residents.

  • It would also allocate $10 million apiece to three other funds for various clean energy initiatives, including minority business development.

Yes, but: The money would be solely controlled by petitioners with ProEnergy Ohio LLC, which worked to get Issue 7 on the ballot, and there are no specifics on how spending decisions would be made.

What they're saying: Mayor Andrew Ginther openly accuses Issue 7 proponents of trying to steal taxpayer money.

  • "It's the greatest scheme in city history," he tells Axios.
  • Council President Shannon Hardin is equally critical, telling us the effort is "a money grab."
  • "I think it's darn near criminal. I am shocked that it is legal."

The intrigue: City leaders are in the unusual position of fighting against a purported green energy cause, which they have done through a slew of press conferences, advertisements and interviews. They are joined in opposition by some civic and environmental activists.

  • In contrast to the city's vocal opposition, Issue 7 backers have not spoken publicly about Issue 7 throughout the election season.

The latest: Ginther says the city will consider taking legal action if the initiative passes.

  • "All options are on the table to protect the public from this scheme."

Flashback: Columbus City Council initially rejected the petition last year, but a subsequent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in favor of the petitioners led to Issue 7 being placed on the ballot.

Context: The group behind Issue 7 has attempted to enact this initiative numerous times over the past decade at both the state and local level, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

Of note: John A. Clark Jr., who led the Issue 7 petition drive, was indicted on charges of election falsification and tampering with records related to his work on the campaign.

  • He is accused of giving false information on Issue 7 campaign finance reports. The case is still pending.
  • Like other news outlets, Axios was unable to reach Clark for comment.

💭 Tyler's thought bubble: I've reported on many ballot items, from the smallest township levies to statewide constitutional amendments.

  • Ballot organizers traditionally work very hard to get public support.
  • So it is surprising for Issue 7 backers to remain so quiet, especially when explicitly seeking to receive so much public funding.
  • Taxpayers who stand to foot the bill for this initiative deserve an open exchange of ideas. They didn't get it.
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