COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Efforts are already underway to get Issue 7 on the 2022 ballot if the measure fails to pass next week.
Issue 7 the only ballot issue voters will decide on this year. The measure would take 87 millions dollars from the Columbus general fund – or about 10 percent – for various energy funds and subsidies.
Mayor Andrew Ginther is against the issue, repeating many of the same assertions made in attack ads against it.
“We’re continuing to raise awareness of what I think is one of the largest scams in the city’s history and that is issue 7. Can you imagine the decisions we’d have to make if this passed?” Ginther said. “Can you imagine laying off public health workers in the midst of a global pandemic or our first responders? This is too great of a risk and we have to defeat this issue.”
Scam was the one word was repeatedly used by city leaders to describe the issue.
“Simply put, issue 7 is a scam,” said City Council President, Shannon Hardin. “They use flowery language, talking about renewable energy and minority business. they’re playing us, y’all. They’re playing us. In reality, all that money goes to their privately held, unaccountable company called ProEnergy.”
“They just want this community to take their word for the fact that they’re going to take $87 million dollars from our taxpayers and spend it on things as they see fit and profit from it. That’s a scam,” Ginther said.
According to the language in issue 7, $30 million dollars would be taken from the general fund and split among three new funds – a clean energy and education fund, an energy conservation and efficiency fund, and a minority business development fund.
The city would also have to take $57 million dollars and create a Columbus clean energy partnership fund. Backers of the bill say the purpose of this is subsidize power in the city and lower bills.
“It is really about priorities and that the city can afford to do this. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the Columbus Police alone.” said Connie Gadell-Newton, a lawyer who represents the five individuals who make up ProEnergy, the group backing Issue 7.
But how these funds would do that, who would be in charge of them and who would hold them accountable for the use of taxpayer dollars are all questions that have been raised by city leaders in opposition to issue 7.
“Quite honestly, the only people supporting it are the five folks trying to steal our tax dollars to spend on things they see fit without transparency, oversight and accountability,” Ginther said. “They’re using these very vague terms like renewable energy, minority business development because they know this is a growing, progressive community that support those things but they haven’t told us how they’re going to spend the money. They haven’t provided any oversight or accountability and they haven’t provided any specifics.”
“They oppose the initiative and can’t win on the substance of the issue so they’re making this about the people who are involved and they really either don’t know what they’re talking about or they do and they’re just lying,” Gadell-Netwon said, who also disagreed with the claim that the backers of the bill would profit from it.
Gadell-Newton says the proposed energy subsidizes would be an “opt-in” program, the data from which backers of the bill would be able to use.
“Once they have everyone who opts in, their contact information, they’re able to market it them other products,” Gadell-Newton said. “It’s really not a money grab where they’re taking the money. They’re able to benefit in other ways, through cross marketing.”
NBC4 asked Gadell-Newton if there was forum or website voters could get more information from to address any concerns they might have or that city leaders have raised.
“Not at this time, unfortunately, but I do think that will be in the works if they try it a second time.”
ProEnergy has already submitted a petition to be on the 2022 ballot — and that petition seeks $20 million more.
“I’ve never seen something where before voters even had a chance to speak on an issue that the same group has turned around and brought back to the city council, to the city clerk another petition to get this same, crazy thing back on the ballot… asking for more next time and so I think this is very, very dangerous…and I think ‘scam’ is the nice word,” Hardin said.”
“This is something that they feel really benefits the people of Columbus and the people who need it most in Columbus and so they’re committed to trying it again if it doesn’t pass this time,” Gadell-Newton said. “The City of Columbus illegally tried to keep this citizen’s initiative off the ballot because they didn’t like the substance of the initiative even though the petition committee met all of the formal requirements to get on that ballot.
City Leaders say the only reason the issue is on the ballot is due to an Ohio Supreme Court decision earlier this year which forced them to.
According to the Franklin County Board of Elections, a group would need to collect signatures from five-percent of the number of residents who voted in the last mayoral election, which in this case would be 4,935 valid signatures.
Ginther says he has met with the city attorney to try and figure out ways to prevent this same issue, or similar ones, from appearing on the ballot repeatedly in future elections.
“How do we make sure we protect democracy, protect the ballot, give folks access to the ballot that need it to hold us accountable…but you can’t use the ballot to steal money from the public,” Ginther said. “If it’s a charter change, we will consider it. If it’s a code change, we will consider it but we aren’t going to allow to people to steal our money, to profit off taxpayers in the city of Columbus.”