Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Brace Yourselves: The Greater Cleveland Partnership's Sin Tax Extension is Coming

Posted By on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 10:17 AM

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(Sorry about the Game of Thrones trope up in that headline; I've begun reading the novels and I just can't help myself.)

ANYWAY, in between scuttling from office to office amid the freezing cold downtown, there's lots of talk among county leadership about extending the so-called sin tax for another 20 years. That's a tax on cigarettes and booze, which has been on the books since 1990. It was originally instituted to pay for the things we used to call Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Gund Arena and Jacobs Field. That totaled $240.5 million. The proposed extension would cover as-yet-unnamed structural improvements to those joints. That comes in closer to $325 million, as journalist Roldo Bartimole points out.

(Question: If $240.5 million more or less funds three whole stadiums back in the 90s, what in the world will $325 million (factoring in inflation, etc.) bring this town?)

Quick, here are a couple of clutch lines from the PD's Mark Naymik in his best column of the year thus far:

The teams are not sharing the information just yet.

This is disgraceful when you consider that the teams and corporate leaders are asking taxpayers to cover these yet-to-be defined costs. This is like a mechanic asking you to agree to pay for car repairs and improvements before you receive an estimate.

Even more outrageous, the Cuyahoga County Council didn't demand an estimate before recently drafting ballot language asking voters to renew the countywide taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, which are set to expire at the end of July in 2015.

He's spot-on with those points.

Cuyahoga County Council may decide by February to place the sin tax extension language on the May ballot. (All of which comes after the city of Cleveland already inked a $30-million deal with the Browns.)

Note that these are all publicly owned sports stadiums boasting teams helmed by personified arrogance capable of producing little more than bad jokes and life-scarring depression. We're coming up on 50 years since a daggone championship in this town; that predates the term "Super Bowl." But perhaps tax-paying residents shouldn't be worrying about wins or successes or general joy emanating from the field/court. Perhaps the essence of Cleveland's Way of Doing Things boils down to a complacent smile, a friendly nod to the fact that, hey, we've got Powerful People here in town. They'll bring economic development back to Cleveland! The main idea here, as evidenced by Mayor Frank Jackson, et al., is to bend over and ask them for more of the same.

The sin tax is just an odd idea, particularly in the realm of sports (by their nature enjoyed by all strata of people and fans of all geographic ilk). It's an Old Guard idea passed down from another time, meant to subsidize the entertainment of the masses on the backs of (often enough) the county's poorest residents.

Relatedly, Bartimole runs the numbers on what county taxpayers have been paying beyond the sin tax. The sheer number of zeroes - dredged right from the people's coffers - is mind-numbing.

Note that there is a general argument running around town (a very Cleveland argument, mind you), that we've gotten ourselves into this situation, and, well, the way out is in, as they say. There aren't a hell of a lot of open pastures in local governments' budget books. But until the residents can analyze the projected "improvements" needed at the three stadiums, it's unwise to heap the bill onto them.

A County Council ordinance to approve this measure for the ballot is due Feb. 5. Expect paltry discussion on the matter as January rolls onward. ...Except in the Scene comments section, that is! Drop your suggestions for Cleveland sports economics down below.

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