Coalition Against the Sin Tax Will Seek Facility Fee Through Ballot Initiative

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The leaders of the Coalition Against the Sin Tax (C.A.S.T.) met on the steps of City Hall this morning to discuss a more specific plan of action. Their idea: Bring a ballot initiative to the voters later this year, one that would seek to institute a $3.25 facility fee on all tickets for for-profit events at Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, and First Energy Stadium. The fee, C.A.S.T. spokesman and local entrepreneur Alan Glazen says, would offset any need to go through with the proposed 20-year extension on the sin tax (up for a vote as Issue 7 on the May 6 ballot).

No other members of the press were around, though a cameraman was seen setting up shop off to the side about 20 minutes into the event.

Glazen and the rest of C.A.S.T. contend that the sin tax extension has been shrouded in malicious PR and opaque corporate welfare from the get-go. The Keep Cleveland Strong campaign, which asserts between its lines that Cleveland will be weakened if the sin tax is not extended, is suggesting that voters extend the tax on booze and cigarettes for another 20 years, well beyond the actual leases of the three teams. The sin tax (or, really, excise tax) was originally approved in 1990 to fund construction of the three sports arenas and later extended in 1995.

Opponents of the current sin tax renewal efforts point out that the original intent of the tax has long passed into the history books. In fact, aside from HVAC repairs and new scoreboards and the like, team owners haven't really been able to explain the need for this new tax money. The city is obligated to pay for repairs, but the sin tax crowd has bulldozed over any attempt at discussing alternative funding sources for those obligations.

Enter C.A.S.T. and their path toward the ballot box.

"It was the Cavs' idea. They are the ones who came up with the idea of a facility fee in the first place," Glazen says. "But they keep the money. Our idea is to impose the facility fee, but the city gets the money to meet the needs of our leases." He points out that more than half of all event attendees at the arenas come from outside Cuyahoga County and would therefore not be paying into the sin tax on a regular basis. Glazen also adds that the notion of a facility fee takes the financial obligation of the leases and drops it in the hands of the people who actually use the arenas in question.

The group is in the process of gathering the 5,000 required signatures in order to get this measure to the voters.

Sin tax proponents, including City Council members, wealthy business owners, and the editorial board of the city's only daily newspaper, have asserted that a facility fee such as the one C.A.S.T. is proposing would "punish" local families and spark rampant job losses throughout the entertainment economy.

Much like the argument that is taking hold that a "no" vote on the sin tax measure would drive Cleveland's sports teams out of the city, the Keep Cleveland Strong rhetoric has no basis in reality. C.A.S.T. leaders point out, again, that the Q already imposes a facility fee. Likewise, the Cleveland Indians authored their own study (subsequently fawned over by The Plain Dealer) that showed families spend upwards of $40 outside the ballpark every time they come to a game. To wit, the fan base already attending games downtown is not one to be deterred by tangential costs.

At the very least, Glazen says, a "no" vote on May 6 does no harm whatsoever to the city. Dissent will only prompt further discussion/negotiation and a working chance at pursuing alternative funding sources for the city's lease obligations.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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