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Government & Politics

Armond Budish Hits Back At Opponents of the Q Renovation Plan During State of the County Speech

photo of Armond Budish

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish gave his annual “State of the County” address in Cleveland today, and he used the opportunity to combat what he says is misinformation about the plan to refurbish Quicken Loans Arena.

The $140 million deal has faced opposition from groups who say the county’s $70 million share of the renovation costs could be spent in other ways – primarily in the city’s neighborhoods. During his “State of the County” address, Budish pointed out that the money comes from bed taxes and other sources that are earmarked for tourism-and-recreation projects.

He also called The Q a huge economic generator for the county, and added that the county is already investing heavily outside of downtown Cleveland.

“We're spending more on health and human and social services as a county than ever in our history. We're making investments in businesses, in neighborhoods, in community improvements -- in the neighborhoods, in Cleveland and in the suburbs. So, we're doing all the things that they're talking about.”

One of those investments is an initiative to provide high-quality preschool for every child in the county. This fall, Budish says the number of students enrolled will double, from 2,000 to 4,000 kids.

Medicaid by phone
Budish also outlined new ways to help people get access to social services.

One idea is a pilot program to take Medicaid applications by phone. In addition, Budish said a partnership with the county library system will allow neighborhood libraries to provide some county services.

“Want to apply for or renew your benefits? Want career planning in our work program? Soon you’ll be able to check out support resources with one stop at your neighborhood library. Never before have residents had this novel opportunity to apply for benefits and get career assistance all at once.”

Here is the full text of Mr. Budish's speech, along with video links:

The last year in our county has been one for the history books!
Look at what the world has seen. We defied the skeptics and hosted a successful, and peaceful, Republican National Convention. (At least it was peaceful outside the arena doors!). Our Indians won the American League pennant, the Monsters won the Calder Cup, and our Cavaliers won the NBA Championship.
Now, politicians often take credit for all the great things that happen during their watch. But I, Iwould never do that!
Ok, now for the real team action.

Although I get to deliver this state of the county speech, everything I do is in close partnership with the Cuyahoga County Council, under the skillful leadership of council president Dan Brady and Vice President Pernell Jones. Would Dan Brady, Pernell Jones, Nan Baker, Dale Miller, Scott Tuma, Mike Gallagher, Jack Schron, Yvonne Conwell, Shontell Brown, Anthony Hairston, and Sunny Simon please rise so we can thank them for their dedicated service.
And we have a truly amazing group of people who work for the county. We can’t achieve our goals, as a thriving community, without the dedication and support of every single person who works for the county. Would all of our hard working county employees who are here please stand. Don’t worry, I think there’s at least one person back at the office.
Our goal is a simple one: improve the lives of our residents…….all our residents. Because
together we thrive! Everything we do is aimed at reaching that goal. When we talk about progress, that’s what we mean.
Yet, our county is diverse. We each have different opportunities. We each have different kinds of needs. What the small business owner in Bedford needs to create more jobs, may not be as helpful to the new college graduate from CSU interviewing for her first job. What the laid off auto worker needs to get back to work, may not make sense for the working parent trying to build a better life. So how do we all thrive?
It’s a daunting challenge and an imperfect balancing act. But we strive every day to get it right.
Being in county government today is like playing a fast-moving game of musical chairs. Washington and Columbus randomly stop the music and take away our chairs – and each time they do, we struggle to stay in the game. Have you noticed that Washington and Columbus always have a chair when the music stops? They get the attention and the dollars, leaving local and county government out. We are left as the last ones standing up for you – to figure out how to provide essential services from ever shrinking funds.

How can we do it? Through wise management, we’re building our own chairs. We’ve adopted strategies that have already saved county taxpayers about $100 million dollars, and these strategies put us on track to save an additional $150 million dollars over the next five years. We will continue to figure out how to provide essential services to move our county forward while coping with ever more severe cuts from the federal and state governments.

Take health care, for example. The affordable care act and Medicaid expansion are under constant attack. Medicare may be transformed into an unworkable voucher program. Millions of people around the country, vulnerable people, could lose their coverage with the stroke of a pen.
But there’s at least one place in the nation where you can be assured of affordable, high quality health care, and that’s right here in Cuyahoga County.
We are fortunate to have some of the world’s best health care institutions – the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, the Sisters of Charity Health System and the MetroHealth system – one of the strongest public hospitals in the nation. Each of these health care institutions has been key partners with us in moving our county forward. The partnership between metro and the county spans many decades. And this month, we took it to the next level. Because with a healthy metro, no resident should go without health care.

I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with their visionary CEO Akram Boutros and the leadership and staff of Metro. From the doctors to the nurses to the customer service and custodial employees, you will not find a more skilled and caring group.
The one thing that is not adequate is the physical facility. I mean, they have a 100 year old wooden water tank! It might be nice to display antiques in your home, but not in your hospital! There’s no question that metro needs a 21st century facility.
If we’re to create a thriving, healthy community for all, regardless of income, metro needs our help. So last week council joined me in approving a plan to partner with metro on a new $750 million campus. Through our creation of a significant reserve fund, we will save metro upwards of $160 million on their transformation project. We are committed to quality health care for everyone in our region; we are committed to the long term success of metro.
As remarkable as it is to accomplish one major project with limited dollars, and without raising taxes, we’re doing two!
The county also will be investing in a $140 million upgrade to the Quicken Loans Arena, with the public sector paying half and the Cavs paying half. I want to explain to you why I believe this project is so important for our community. The arena is a publicly owned building – we own it and it is our responsibility to maintain it. This is what county voters demanded when they originally approved the gateway deal in 1990. But even more than that, we are making this investment because the arena is one of our most significant economic catalysts and job generators in the region. More than 2300 people work at the Q, and countless others work at the restaurants, bars and hotels supported by the 200 ticketed events that take place at the Q each year. These are people who live in our neighborhoods. The Q itself generates $20 million in taxes to the city and county annually. Some of these taxes are going to pay for the Q project, and much will go to pay for the critical services our residents need. Our deal includes a lease extension that keeps the world champion Cavs in Cleveland for another 17 years - until 2034.
As we debated The Q transformation project, some people argued that we should take the public’s $70 million and use it for human services. But that can’t be done! The $70 million from the public generally comes from the project itself or from bed taxes that by law can only be used for tourism infrastructure. If we didn’t do this project, there’s no $70 million sitting somewhere. We’re not taking any money from existing programming.
Joe Biden once said: “don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Well, in this year’s budget we’re spending more on health, human and social services than at any time in our county’s history. That’s what we value. But to continue to do this, we need to invest in tax producing development projects like The Q.
There also were people who criticized the project as just another downtown improvement. They said that we’re ignoring neighborhood investments. Let me be blunt -- they’re just wrong!
The fact, the true fact, not some alt fact, is that we have invested in more economic development and job creation projects in the Cleveland neighborhoods and throughout the suburbs, than in downtown. Way more!
Here are just a few examples of our investments:
The Variety Theater at West 118th and Lorain has been empty for the last 30 years. But that’s about to change. The reborn facility will consist of a restaurant, retail and entertainment venue. This project will create a hundred new jobs. And equally important, the variety theatre project should catalyze the entire neighborhood, much like the capitol theatre did for Gordon Square.
Dealer Tire is one of the world’s largest distributors of tires and other products for vehicles. This billion dollar business has called Cleveland home for decades. But it grew out of its space and was being courted to move by other cities. In partnership with the City of Cleveland and the State of Ohio, we were able to keep Dealer Tire right here, at 70th and Euclid, retaining more than 400 jobs and adding 100 more. And this project is already spurring additional investments in midtown.
Explorys collects and analyzes millions of patient health care records. It started here as a Cleveland Clinic spinoff and recently sold to IBM/Watson. Too often we’ve seen successful companies sell and move. But not this time. IBM Watson will remain here in Cleveland, partnering up with the clinic, and building a new home at the entrance to opportunity corridor.
This is really exciting! Why? In 1980, medical knowledge doubled every 7 years; today, it doubles every 73 days! By 2020, healthcare data will exceed 2300 exabytes. Can you believe it ---- 2300 exabytes! Now, since I’m very tech savvy, (and because I looked it up), an exabyte is one quintillion bytes. And how much is that? A lot! No doctor, no hospital, can hope to stay up to date. But the world’s largest supercomputer can! IBM/Watson is the future of medicine, and we have it right here in the Fairfax neighborhood of Cleveland!
IBM/Watson should also be the spark for neighborhood growth along opportunity corridor. We’re already seeing interest in the building of 450 new homes in the Fairfax area.
These three projects – the variety theatre, dealer tire and IBM Watson – each have the opportunity to spark significant investments in our neighborhoods. Not downtown, but in our neighborhoods.
And don’t forget the metro project, which should help revitalize the entire neighborhood around the hospital.
And there’s a whole lot more: Heinen’s Warehouse in Warrensville, Fabtech in Brecksville, Lincoln Electric Welding in Euclid, King Nut in Solon, Nottingham Industrial on E. 185th, Fat Heads Brewery in Middleburg Hts, Sterigenics in Broadview Hts, Saucy Brew Works on Detroit. And the list goes on and on.
And these are just the big economic development projects.
Over the last year we’ve focused special attention on supporting local entrepreneurs that are starting and growing small neighborhood businesses.
For these investments, we’ve partnered with the Economic Community Development Institute (or ECDI), Jumpstart, the Federal SBA, the Urban League and Morgan Stanley. These investments are already paying off, creating 34 new companies, growing 60 additional companies, creating 226 new jobs, and retaining 386 jobs!
With us today are entrepreneurs https://youtu.be/D7Lge9Ch7pg">Pedro and Aurora Quintana. Welcome!
Our development partnerships are paying off in other ways, too. Cover my meds, a Jumpstart portfolio company, recently sold for a billion dollars. As a result, the county already is getting back its full Jumpstart investment, and we will remain in Jumpstart funds to share in future profits.

I was going to introduce my next topic by asking: if we want to enhance communities and retain and attract residents, what comes first: jobs, or neighborhood improvements? Naturally, that brings to mind the question, which came first, the chicken or the egg. I figured this would be a good time to wake you up with a hilarious joke. But when I looked online for a humorous chicken and egg punchline, I was shocked to find they were all filthy. Really, you can check for yourself, after my speech. For now, I’ll opt to not lay an egg and just move on.
So when it comes to asking which comes first, jobs or neighborhood improvements, the answer is: we need to do both. In addition to economic development projects in the narrow sense, we must at the same time focus on community development, building and enhancing neighborhoods.
For example, we’re supporting an exciting lakefront development in Euclid. And we’ve invested in huge mixed use developments at W. 25th Street and Detroit, and in Shaker Hts around Van Aken and Warrensville.
We’ve committed $50 million to tear down vacant and abandoned properties, to eliminate blight in our communities, and additional funds to help homeowners and local store owners to maintain and restore their properties.
https://youtu.be/c9G2aIQWm6I">This video shows the impact of our investment around van aken.
County Council created a new community development program, and just last month, we awarded $1 million in grants for community improvement projects, including park improvements, street repairs, lighting, landscaping, and safety.
So if anyone says we are just investing in downtown Cleveland, and that we’re ignoring the rest of the county, they’re just wrong. We’re investing more in the Cleveland neighborhoods, and in our suburbs, than ever before. I’ve talked a lot about community improvement and job creation. But if we’re truly going to thrive, then we must train our residents to fill those jobs.
The workforce system is broken. There are thousands of good paying jobs open right now, and we have thousands of people who want to work but can’t get hired. This is not acceptable and must be corrected. So we’re attacking this problem holistically.
First, we’re turning the county “public assistance” office into a “WORC” center. We’ve created a one-stop shop to help people take the first steps out of poverty and onto a career path, and we’ve done it right at the Virgil Brown Center. That’s the place where thousands of people come every year to get Medicaid, food stamps, and other essential safety net benefits. But now we’ll also take them down the hall to our new WORC center, where they’ll meet with a career counselor who will help them create an individualized employment plan. We’ll help them get the training and supportive services they need, and we’ll not only help them get that first job, but their next better paying job too. We’ll stick with them as they get on a career path to a family sustaining wage. Everything they need to be successful is right there for them.

I want to thank Catholic Charities of Cleveland, Cleveland Public Library, Techcentral maker space, Ohio Means Jobs and Dress For Success all of whom are participating with us. We’ve also launched a new and innovative program we call Skillup, because often the next job is a promotion.
Business owners have told us they have good entry level workers, but can’t find employees for more skilled positions in the company. So we’re partnering with the businesses to subsidize training and wages while the employees learn a new position. And in 3 to 6 months, when they move up to a better paying job, their entry level position will open up for new employees.
https://youtu.be/Dv5lo3iE6m8">This video shows the continuum of our workforce strategy.
We cannot overlook people in our community who have made a mistake, committed a crime, and done their time. As Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, so wisely has said, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” After their debt to society is paid, they need a job to become productive members of our community. Last year I told you about a new job training program we were starting at the Euclid jail. The program has been a success, with more than 30 graduates getting jobs and others going on to additional training. This year we are significantly expanding the variety of training options and the number of inmates served.
Ok, are you enjoying your cookies? They’re provided by bloom bakery, one of our county’s best re-entry job training partnerships. I’m going to hurry through the rest of my speech so I can eat my cookies!
Economic and community development, job creation, and job training are all top priorities. But our number one responsibility remains making sure that our residents are safe, protected and able to care for themselves, focusing on those who are most vulnerable and most in need.
We’re starting with our youngest residents. In a region with the best health care in the world, we should be ashamed of the fact that we have one of the worst infant mortality rates anywhere. Third world rates! All of our children should live to see their first birthdays.
Last year I announced that we were joining with the City of Cleveland, the hospitals, the foundations, faith based organizations, and others to tackle this crisis. The State of Ohio has joined our effort as well. Our initiative is called First Year Cleveland, and we have set up the structure, raised $6.8 million, hired a director, and identified life saving programs that make the most impact. We’re now ready to scale up and spread these programs throughout the community.
https://youtu.be/9Muwn9_3PaM">Here’s an example of a great program serving the fairfax and hough neighborhoods.
A high quality pre-kindergarten education can be a life changer. When a child gets a good start at age 3 or 4, that child comes to kindergarten without the need for remedial help, reads better at 3rd grade, is more likely to graduate high school, and do better throughout life. With the help of Paul Clark, regional president of PNC, in just 3 months of last year, we raised a $23 million fund.
Beginning this fall, we will double the number of children in high quality pre-schools from 2,000 to 4,000. This truly will be transformative for our region’s future. I am proud to stand with our county council and our many generous private and philanthropic donors who believe in investing in our children.
A great start in life is very important. But even more is needed. I would love to see every child graduate high school and have the opportunity to go on to college. And that’s why we’re proud to be a key partner in the effort to bring the national “say yes to education” program to Cleveland. The goal of “say yes” is that every public school student graduates high school, prepared for college or other post-secondary education, and with access to the resources needed to make that education affordable.
At the heart of “say yes” is a powerful incentive for families and communities --- a college scholarship.
We are actively working with the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Metropolitan School D, College Now, the Cleveland Foundation, and United Way to become a national “say yes” community.
A major part of our job is to assist people most in need to obtain the health, food and cash benefits that are vital to their survival. Our overworked and under-acknowledged staff really do a great job. But way too often residents encounter unnecessary hurdles and roadblocks.
It used to be that you had to come into our office to apply for benefits. You might have to fight traffic, search out and pay for parking, stand in line for an hour, fill out an application with a caseworker, then wait a week until the application was reviewed in Columbus.
Now, working with the state, we’re changing that overly burdensome process. We’ve begun a pilot to take Medicaid applications by phone. In 30 minutes, you’re done. That’s it! We’re saving you time and taxpayers money!
For those people who still want to meet face to face, we’ve “read” your minds. I’m excited to announce a new partnership with the county library system which will effectively turn neighborhood libraries into local county government branches. Want to apply for or renew your benefits? Want career planning in our WORC program? Soon you’ll be able to “check out” support resources with one stop at your neighborhood library. Never before have residents had this “novel” opportunity to apply for benefits and get career assistance all at once. I’d like to thank executive director Sari Feldman and her library board, some of whom are here today.

The opioid crisis has hit epidemic proportions. Already this year we’re on pace to register 850 overdose deaths, a record I wish we would not be setting. And the reach of this epidemic cuts across every demographic group and every part of the county.
We’ve helped lead a community coalition to combat this crisis. There is no one solution. We are trying every possible approach. We need more treatment options. Medicaid is the primary payor for treatment, but the rules for some unfathomable reason limit coverage to 16 beds within any one facility. We have lobbied our federal officials to lift this restriction, and we’ll continue to do so, but they have not yet listened.
So we recently joined in partnership with the City of Cleveland and the ADAMHS board to come up with another $1.5 million to add 113 more treatment beds, increasing the number by 75%. It’s still not enough, but it’s an important step forward. I’d like to thank ADAMHS Board CEO Bill Denihan, who is here today.
To get the word out about the dangers of heroin, fentanyl, and the over-prescribing of prescription opioids, we recently announced a new and extensive public information campaign. The Doner agency has developed a significant multi-media campaign, pro bono, and most of the major media outlets in town have partnered with us to donate time and space to air these messages. https://youtu.be/lOpcuNYHEl8">Here’s a perspective on our campaign from a father who lost his son.

Greg McNeel has been very supportive of our community education efforts and he’s here with us today.
To literally bring the public information campaign “home”, we’ve brought “hidden in plain sight” to the county. Did you see the teenage bedroom set up as you walked into lunch today? That’s it! It’s designed to educate parents on tipoffs in their teenager’s bedroom that their child may have a drug problem. This is a creative and impactful effort. So take a look on your way out. We’ll be taking this bedroom on the road throughout the county. I’d like to thank our partners from the City of Copley police department for providing and staffing the display. And we look forward to providing this resource to county residents throughout the year.
Public safety is crucial if we are to thrive. People must feel safe, and be safe. For this reason, we have started several new initiatives to support local law enforcement and first responders.
First, we’ve created a new crime gun lab, to give local law enforcement an important tool to get crime guns and their owners off the streets. When an attack with a gun occurs, there often are shells or casings left at the scene, each with unique markings. Police can collect those shells and send them to our gun lab, where they will be analyzed and the data fed into a master computer. When a person is stopped with a gun, that gun can also be tested. https://youtu.be/T6OVoi3cihA">Here’s how it works.

Second, here’s something you probably didn’t know: if the police in shaker, for example, stop a Caucasian male with brown hair and a scar on his right cheek, they wouldn’t know that the police in Cleveland are looking for a person matching that description. They have access only to limited information. So we are creating for the first time a regional database that allows law enforcement to check data from across the county. And we’ll be positioning license plate readers at 25 to 50 busy intersections and highway ramps. Those cameras will check license plates against this database. If it identifies a stolen car or vehicle registered to a person who is wanted, local law enforcement will be immediately notified, allowing them to catch the bad guys.
Third, we have obtained 5 mobile cameras to assist local law enforcement. When a community identifies a specific need, maybe a community festival or a high crime hot spot, we can now deploy and monitor cameras in real time. Local law enforcement can respond immediately to any potential problem.
And fourth, we have beefed up our medical examiner’s capabilities. You may be surprised to learn that our medical examiner, the coroner, plays a critical role in law enforcement. Although we cannot fathom or accept tragedies like the recent murder of 14 year old Aliana Defreeze, at least we can report progress with identifying perpetrators. Within 24 hours after the medical examiner’s office received her body, DNA testing identified the alleged killer. And within 24 hours after that, our sheriff’s department, along with the Northern Ohio Fugitive Task Force, U.S. Marshalls, and Cleveland police, captured the alleged murderer.

We are making progress. Our new initiatives will be impactful. But as the shocking Facebook murder of this weekend showed, we still have a ways to go.

Finally, I want to talk about our fiscal management. When I entered this office 2 years ago, we discovered some very serious financial issues. To balance our last budget, we had to fill a $68 million hole. And since then, we have continued to unearth a number of other costly problems that we inherited. Every time I think we’ve identified and resolved all the financial problems, new ones appear. Along with more grey hairs to commemorate each one!
And thanks to huge cuts from the state government, we’re looking at severe challenges for our next budget.
Despite these obstacles, I still sleep like a baby. You know, I sleep for a couple hours, then I wake up and cry for a couple hours. (I found this joke after I gave up on the chicken and egg).
Seriously, we’re putting our fiscal house in order. We balanced our 2015, ‘16, and ‘17 budgets. And we will do the same in the future, by being both responsible and resourceful.
Through our solid fiscal management, we have strengthened our financial position and maintained our high bond rating established by outside rating agencies. We are absolutely committed to fiscal responsibility and accountability.
The state of the county is strong. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We cannot rest until every one of our residents is on a path to achieving their full potential. We cannot rest until our businesses, both large and small, have the resources and support they need to thrive. We cannot rest until we have assured the security of our residents for this generation and for generations to come. We cannot rest until we create a county that is welcoming to all who seek the opportunity to thrive and prosper. We cannot rest until we lift up the residents in all of our neighborhoods.
For everything I’ve shared with you, and I know it’s a lot, I believe we are creating a stronger, healthier county. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you as your county executive. Now it’s time for my cookies.