Oct 20, 2022 - Politics

Columbus charter amendment would close loophole for taxpayer money

Illustration of a hand placing a ballot in a box.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A Columbus charter amendment going before voters Nov. 8 would close a loophole allowing residents to redirect taxpayer money into their own coffers with no oversight.

Why it matters: Issue 19 would have stopped Issue 7, last November's self-dealing ballot initiative that the mayor called "the greatest scheme in city history."

Catch up quick: Issue 7 would have diverted $87 million in tax dollars to a shadowy green energy group — about 10% of the city's annual general fund.

  • The vague, nice-sounding proposal would've supposedly funded electric bill subsidies and other clean energy efforts, but petitioners would have had sole control of the money.

Yes, but: 87% of voters shot it down after an opposition campaign by city leaders.

The latest: With attention drawn to the loophole, Issue 19 aims to prevent similar initiatives.

  • A charter review commission recommended the change.

How it works: A charter is a city's constitution. The new language would ban future ballot initiatives in Columbus that create monopolies, confer special privileges and self-deal.

  • Voters approved a similar change to Ohio's constitution in 2015 for statewide initiatives.

The intrigue: State law doesn't allow voter initiatives to be completely banned from the ballot.

  • So if a petitioner proposes one for private gain, Issue 19's solution is a two-step safeguard. Columbus voters would first need to approve a ballot item asking if the measure should be allowed "in violation of the charter" and then approve the initiative itself.
  • A petitioner would also be required to submit the names and addresses of anyone who would financially benefit and by how much.

What they're saying: "We owe the people of Columbus a better process and more accountability, transparency and oversight," Mayor Andrew Ginther tells Axios. "We heard that from city residents loud and clear."

Separately, Columbus is voting on two more charter amendments related to online public meetings and flexibility for hiring city employees.


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