5 Reasons Clevelanders Should Reject the Latest Pro-Sports Giveaway

Hello! If I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you, allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Will Tarter.  I love Cleveland, its people, its traditions, its teams, its institutions, its past, its present and its future.

It’s with the future of our community in mind, as a taxpayer and a citizen, that I am voting “No” on Issue 7, otherwise known as the “Sin Tax.” Issue 7 will appear on the ballot on May 6th, 2014. This proposed issue will primarily tax Cuyahoga County residents, potentially bringing in an average of $13.5 million, each year, for the next 20 years, totaling $270 million that is 100% intended to fund maintenance on the professional sports facilities.

If you oppose Issue 7, that doesn’t mean you are opposed to continuing the momentum of Downtown Cleveland, opposed to Cleveland, or opposed to the Cavaliers, Indians, or Browns. You can love Cleveland and be a passionate advocate, but still oppose Issue 7.

As you will read here, Issue 7 is a flawed piece of legislation for Cuyahoga County taxpayers. While I agree that we need to fulfill our obligations, I (and others) have serious questions and concerns as taxpayers of the impact of Issue 7 on our county.

No matter where you fall politically (liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican; Tea Party or Green Party; young professional, mid-life or senior citizen; urban dweller or suburbanite), I want to ask you to Vote No on Issue 7.

Here are 5 reasons why we should Vote No:

Government is actively trying to get people to smoke less, making Issue 7 an unreliable method of funding. Governor Kasich recently proposed a budget including $27 million for smoking prevention and to support people who want to quit.  He has also has proposed a tax increase of 60 cents per pack on cigarettes.  “Tobacco taxes are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates,” said Micah Berman, professor at the College of Public Health and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

Getting people to quit or smoke less is a great thing (for healthcare, social, and economic reasons). But if people do start smoking less often as a result of these statewide policy changes (smoking rates are already decreasing statewide), then even less money that comes from the Issue 7 sin tax that can be used to fulfill the financial lease obligations of the City and County.  If that happens, we would still have to figure out other ways on how to fulfill our funding obligations. And if Cuyahoga County residents don’t stop smoking, money would be taken away from their income that could be used for other more imperative expenses.

So Issue 7 affects you, whether you smoke or not.

Ironically, the City of Cleveland, which is supporting the cigarette tax as a way to pay for the stadiums, also created the Healthy Cleveland Initiative, a promotion of healthy living which contains a component designed to get people to smoke less.

It unfairly hits the poor who smoke and are addicted to smoking. Issue 7 is a tax on cigarettes and alcohol, otherwise known as a “Sin Tax.” This form of government income is a highly regressive tax, which means that it disproportionately harms poor people who smoke.  It is harmful to poor people who smoke in two ways.  First, according to the National Institute of Health, “the prevalence of smoking is higher among the poor” and “cigarettes are, in fact, disproportionately consumed by the poor.”  Second, according to a 2014 New York Times analysis, data suggests that it is more difficult for poor and working class citizens to stop smoking. The Times states: “since 1997, the smoking rate for adults has fallen 27 percent, but among the poor it has declined just 15 percent.

Issue 7 primarily taxes the poor Cuyahoga County residents who smoke more and have more difficulty quitting, and provides a significantly smaller return on the investment for the low-income residents of the county (a stark contrast to the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture tax on the ballot next year).

Over 50% of the visitors to the sports facilities are from outside Cuyahoga County. While proponents of the sin tax say that people who visit will pay the sin tax and spend their dollars in Downtown, it is the citizens of Cuyahoga County, and especially the City of Cleveland, who live here and will be paying this tax over and over and over again.  If we want to talk about approaching issues from a regional basis, this is a great place to start.

As pointed out by Crain’s Business Magazine, Issue 7, aka the Sin Tax, is for 20 years.  None of the team leases are signed beyond 15 years. Other cities have asked teams to make a signed lease commitment to stay in the city for the same number of years of any future tax funding/bond request before going to the voters and asking for more money.  Seems fair.

The sports facilities have collected hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies since 2000. Sin Tax proponents will say “it’s only one penny here, one penny there.”  But over 20 years, Issue 7 could potentially add up to over $270,000,000. 270 Million Dollars. How else could the $270 million be spent over 20 years be spent in our communities with a larger benefit to residents?

For perspective, $270,000,000 is more money than the new Convention Center Hilton Hotel.

And almost as much money as the new Interstate 90 bridge.

Did You Know?: The Cleveland Browns pay only $250,000 annually in rent to the City of Cleveland.  The minimum salary for an NFL player on an active roster is $405,000.

The questions being raised about Issue 7 are about more than just the Sin Tax. They are a microcosm of a broader conversation on the relationship between Cleveland and the facilities that house the sports teams and the owners and management of the teams themselves.  For context, the sports facilities and the general fund which pays to maintain them, also receive City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County taxpayer revenue from:

  • The Parking Tax
  • The Admission Tax
  • The Bed Tax
  • The Video Game Tax
  • The Car Rental Tax AND
  • The buildings themselves are exempt from property taxes (which takes away potential revenue or reduces potential revenue that would be attributed to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District)

Collectively, that totals almost $1 BILLION dollars in the past 10 years.

Check out the breakdown from the Plain Dealer, which calls it a “smorgasbord of taxes.” http://media.cleveland.com/metro/photo/taxes-cleveland-entertainment-chartjpg-df6156ef4dda1ca6.jpg.

Voting NO on Issue 7 does not mean that you are anti-Downtown Cleveland, anti-Cleveland, anti-development or anti-sports.

But by joining me in Voting NO on Issue 7, we can find a better way to support our teams, our city and our county.

We, the people, are who keep Cleveland strong.

And the best is yet to come.


Will Tarter

The Coalition Against the Sin Tax campaign (CAST) is a volunteer, community-driven campaign that has formed to defeat Issue 7.  If you or your organization is interested in joining CAST, we welcome your support. There is a growing list of citizens, public officials and organizations who are opposing Issue 7.

If you are interested in having a speaker at your event, service, meeting or talk show during the month of April, please let us know: coalitionagainstthesintax@gmail.com.

If you have additional questions, we will be doing a Reddit AMA on April 9th at 6:30 p.m. and will answer any questions that you may have.

Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CoalitionAgainsttheSinTax

Follow Us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/noclesintax

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