Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati and Recovery from the Recession

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland just released a report showing economic data from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The idea was to track how these three cities are recovering from the recession.

Here’s the three area’s employment rates, before the recession and currently.

So Pittsburgh is the big outlier here. It’s recession was way less bad than the other two cities, in terms of unemployment and it’s back to pre-recession levels, something the other two cities are nowhere near. The Federal Reserve researchers do note that Pittsburgh’s employment appears to have leveled off, unfortunately.

Pittsburgh’s unemployment is better than the state and nation, while Cleveland and Cincinnati’s are much worse.

One thing Cleveland researcher Joel Elvery (an old professor of mine) notes, is that Cleveland’s employment rate has been growing at a pretty healthy clip lately. That is a big relief, he says, because after the last recession, around 2001, the local economy never really recovered the lost jobs. He said this was due to growing demand for exports and recovery in manufacturing.

One other thing that the Fed said that was interesting about Cleveland is that one of the fastest growing sectors this year has been hospitality — because

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of the casino they said and new hotels.

What’s interesting to note also though is that GDP has mostly recovered for Cincinnati and Cleveland but employment hasn’t kept pace. These are GDP:

Even Pittsburgh, GDP is still growing strong, but employment has leveled off.

— Angie Schmitt

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Is Cleveland Strong?

This picture just blows my mind.

This is a sign encouraging people to renew the “sin tax” in Cuyahoga County, a tax on alcohol and cigarettes that subsidizes pro sports teams.

This was taken in East Cleveland. Paid supporters of the “sin tax” have been plastering Cleveland’s vacant lots with these signs, urging people to “Keep Cleveland Strong” by renewing the tax.

Keep Cleveland Strong. Man, the gall behind that statement.

That’s the narrative Cleveland’s political and business establishment is always pushing. I heard someone from this campaign say if Cleveland’s sports stadiums start to fall into disrepair, it will damage Cleveland’s reputation as a “comeback city.” As if people are going to travel here, ignore the state of our roads, schools and houses, and judge us for the speed of the escalators at the Q.

Sometimes I need to ask myself, are we talking about the same city? Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010. Some neighborhoods — like Hough and Glenville — lost an astounding 38 percent of their population between 2000 and 2007.

I know what they’re getting at here with “Keep Cleveland Strong.” A lot of people feel hopeful about the region. Downtown Cleveland has gained population. There is some new development taking place in urban neighborhoods like Ohio City. If you conscientiously avoid the areas of the city some people conscientiously avoid — like the one in the photo — maybe the city does seem strong.

But the data paints a pretty bleak picture. A majority of Cleveland children — 54% — live in poverty. Our population numbers are appalling, only Detroit and Youngstown are really in the same league in terms of population decline. Both lost about 25 percent of their population between 2000 and 2010. About 13 percent of the city of Cleveland holds a college degree, that’s compared with more than 30 percent in both Cincinnati and Columbus.

Even downtown Cleveland’s residential population growth — the encouraging sign these campaigns are based on — isn’t without its downside for the region. Downtown’s residential population growth was made possible by vacant office spaces — solid, high-paying jobs that sprawled away or disappeared. We are constantly being told how low the residential vacancy rate in downtown Cleveland is, but nobody is talking about the office vacancy rate, and that would be interesting to know, as well.

But the political and business establishment has no interest in advertising data that might point to their failures.  Sometimes I feel like there is a conspiracy to present Cleveland is a positive light by a lot of people. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If Cleveland isn’t “strong” who is to blame?

Do our population numbers justify a housecleaning? If more people better understood them, they might. So information that paints Cleveland’s situation negatively is brushed aside, because it’s threatening, in my opinion.

Clevelanders are deliberately presented with positive news: a new restaurant opened! but deliberately shielded from negative news. I have a friend, an engaged well educated friend, who assured me recently that “Cleveland IS growing.” She was honestly convinced that Cleveland is growing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cleveland is one of the fastest shrinking cities in the country. Between 2000 and 2010 every neighborhood in the city lost population except downtown. Even the inner ring suburbs are shrinking.

Critically, what the political leadership and business establishment are proposing is that we do the same thing we have been doing for a long time — extend a 20-year tax. So they must argue that things are going well — it worked the first time. Cleveland is “strong” but could become weak if we don’t act!

Cleveland’s political and business establishment has for decades been focused on stabilizing downtown. Presenting it as a pretty face for tourists. It makes sense on some levels. So many of our big public economic development campaigns have been focused on downtown. These stadiums are a perfect example. And downtown is doing ok, great even, you might say.

But to me, it seems so obvious that these “trickle down” economic development proposals — sports stadiums, conventions centers — aren’t “trickling down” more broadly. The health of downtown might not have a lot to do with the health of Hough or East Cleveland. The picture says it all.

A more cynical person might even suggest these kinds of economic policies have contributed to the wealth inequality and staggering poverty we have here.

Regardless of whether the sin tax “Keeps Cleveland Strong,” it will certainly contribute to wealth inequality in our region. The three biggest beneficiaries are the owners. Dan Gilbert alone is worth $3.6 billion. The people who will pay the highest price are low-income Cuyahoga County residents. Half of smokers make less than $25,000 a year.

Maybe it’s time to reevaluate some economic policies that helped produce a MAJORITY childhood poverty rate, nearly a fifth of the population leaving in a single decade.

That question of whether or not Cleveland is strong really makes all the difference. That’s why the existing leadership has such a high stake in convincing us that it is. Is it working?

–Angie Schmitt

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An Art Gallery and Neighborhood Change

Right now I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a neighborhood called Northside. Its about a 15-minute drive north of downtown. From my bedroom window I can see a pizza place, hair salon, a couple tax centers, a rad art-collective-space called Chase Public, and a boutique shop Ill never venture into. I think if I lean I can see a chile place on the corner. Largely, the area is populated by long-time locals, but many (like myself) have moved here after a bit of redevelopment and renewal. While this renewal, on the economic side of things, is almost entirely beneficial to the city, there comes with it a necessary conversation about the appropriation (accidental or not) of an already-existent culture. The result is a hodgepodge of establishments peppering Northsides business district.

Northside Cincinnati via Wikipedia

 

Whats striking about this glass-paned landscape is this: the places we might think of as being an agent (or a result) of gentrification last when they exist self-consciously and are aware of their environment and very act of replacing. Though they are accused of invading, of not understanding or respecting their environment (either spatial or temporal) or adjusting to it, of being culturally parasitic, my argument is that they actually understand and respect it better than most. For instance: the art space exists, along with the few other galleries in Northside, knowing it might well be temporary. Knowing they might run out of funds by the years end. Knowing something else, some other project, might soon exist in their physical and metaphorical place.

But this isnt pessimism its embrace. Hell, its romantic, isnt it? Like the wise neighbor whose view of death is sparkling and worriless. The tax centers, too, embrace and even operate around this acknowledged impermanence. Thats what they do. The places that Ive seen close up are often restaurants the common victim of entrepreneurship.

A new fancy eatery down the street, Bistro Grace, does not follow these ideals. Northside is an area of largely middle- or lower-class people, including myself, who cant regularly (or even rarely) afford to eat at overly expensive restaurants Bistro Grace is exactly that. Eating there, therefore, is not really available to Northsiders, and this seems very wrong to me. How permanent can we expect this place to be? How much about the area does this place appear to understand or respect? Its important to remember that art galleries, on the other hand, are not only free to enjoy, but do not truly expect to make much money in the long-run. This is another element to their impermanence, and something that I think embraces areas like Northside with both their monetary accessibility and their curating of local artists. This, to me, is a smart way to encourage regionalism and the pride native to it.

So my question is this: why look at these galleries as gentrification? Why not embrace their impermanence and availability as they do? The majority of the Rust Belts fall (arguably, sure) was based on a false permanence and a lack of adaptation, but these houses of art have learned from those mistakes; an act which, to me, is the greatest and most useful form of respect. In this way, these spaces and places are not only bringing life back into the hollows, not only creating urban renewal and reasons for both locals and tourists to visit an area and feel a sense of pride (and to, in turn, contribute to its redevelopment and growth), they are also showing us they know their place in history, however fleeting.

C.J. Opperthauser

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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.

Sincerely,

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

Sources used:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448232/

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/health/smoking-stays-stubbornly-high-among-the-poor.html

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/02/28/back-in-focus.html

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/02/26/many-laud-state-plan-to-aid-smokers.html

http://www.cleveland.com/cuyahoga-county/index.ssf/2014/01/cuyahoga_county_sin_tax_renewal_headed_to_may_ballot_would_pay_for_sports_stadiums.html

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nfl–football-teams-with-the-most-expensive-tickets-213046787.html

http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2012/01/sports_authority_field_at_mile_high_tax_ends.php

http://www.northdenvertribune.com/2012/01/mile-high-stadium-is-paid-off-by-taxpayers-but/

http://www.adamsmith.org/news/press-releases/taxes-on-alcohol-and-cigarettes-don%E2%80%99t-discourage-consumption-and-hit-the-poor

http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/tax-spending/the-wages-of-sin-taxes-the-true-cost-of-taxing-alcohol-tobacco-and-other-vices

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/03/10/smokers-may-pay.html

http://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/index.ssf/2013/08/ohios_sales_tax_rate_goes_up_o.html

http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20140202/SUB1/140139933

http://brian-cummins.blogspot.com/2014/03/faq-proposed-extension-of-alcohol-and.html

http://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/index.ssf/2014/01/cuhahoga_county_home_to_8_of_t.html

http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/8/31/4677982/nfl-practice-squad-salary-rules-eligibility

http://www.ohio.com/news/browns-city-reach-agreement-on-stadium-project

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The Big Road Solution: A Critical Look at the Opportunity Corridor

The Opportunity Corridor is a $331 million road through the east side of Cleveland that has been presented to residents as an economic development project. The residents of these neighborhoods, such as Kinsman, are struggling with poverty (median household income $13,300) and serious health issues, including high rates of asthma and infant mortality rates worse than Zimbabwe.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) believes that neighborhoods have declined due to poor highway access, stating “by the middle of the 20th century, trucking had become more prominent in transporting industrial goods. This shift resulted in local businesses leaving in search of locations with better access to the interstate highway system, enhanced visibility and new infrastructure to support their business needs.”

This is in contrast to the reality that decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment followed by demolition and fire have resulted in many vacant lots and economic decline throughout neighborhoods. To get residents on board with their project, ODOT and the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), Cleveland’s chamber of commerce, told residents in a series of public meetings that the project would create 10,000 permanent jobs.

This statement was made after the City of Cleveland had estimated only 1,600 jobs. Furthermore, after the presentations GCP funded an economic development study that found it would only create about 2,340 jobs. Basically, GCP went into low income neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment and promised an absurd number of jobs in order to get community support for their road project with no accountability. This alone should raise red flags.

The real barrier to economic Development is brownfield remediation and low interest loans. Businesses in the area, such as Miceli’s Cheese, were able to expand only after qualifying for low interest loans and grants that were used to clean up the brownfields. The Phalen Boulevard, a project said to be a model for the Opportunity Corridor, had years of brownfield remediation and anchoring tenants before it was built, but there is no brownfield remediation in the current Opportunity Corridor proposal.

The Phalen Boulevard also had no residential houses that had to be taken, whereas Opportunity Corridor has estimated that 74 residential and 44 commercial structures will need to be taken. It’s a slap in the face that “fair market value” will be paid to residents when market values have declined so much and many elderly residents already have their houses paid off. ODOT plans to provide only $52,000 maximum to residents to relocate.

Furthermore, ODOT openly states that the Opportunity Corridor would “result in disproportionately high and adverse impacts to low income and minority populations” and has only offered 2 pedestrian bridges, a voluntary residential relocation program, and a half million dollars to the Woodland Recreation Center.  The half million dollars given to the rec center represents less than one-tenth of one percent (about .0015%) of the project’s budget.  ODOT should be ashamed for the lack of community benefits given that this is such a large scale project.  City of Cleveland officials should be more vocal in obtaining improved community benefits for displaced residents and for the neighborhoods that will be divided by the corridor.

Another barrier to economic development is transportation. Over 40% of households in Kinsman do not have access to a car, and the corridor does nothing to improve public transportation, in fact it will create large walls around the East 55th street rapid station, which will decrease pedestrian access. In a recent Interview by Michael McGraw in the Cleveland Street Chronicle, Norman Krumholz, Planning Director of the City from 1969-1979 and professor of Urban Affairs at CSU, was asked what could be added to the Opportunity Corridor to benefit public transit users. Krumholz replied, “They could use the present configuration so that bus lines would be able to transverse the present proposal. Or, better yet, they could forget about the Opportunity Corridor entirely, and use existing streets, and connect more closely with existing public transit, and redevelopment efforts in the existing neighborhoods.”

For example – instead of using the Opportunity Corridor, which is supposed to cost maybe $350 million, that is an early estimate, it’ll probably run over $400 million by the time it’s done, they could simply improve the route from the hub at E. 55th St.” Krumholz recommendations are similar to an alternative to improve Woodland Ave that was removed in the early planning stages when no residents were involved in the initial planning. Per ODOT, “In the early planning stage, the committee was made up mostly of business, political and transportation agency representatives and leaders of Community Development Corporations.” In fact, ODOT was sued by South Euclid Councilman Marty Gelfand to “find out how and why ODOT District 12 came to select that route and what, if any alternatives were proposed, especially the Woodland Avenue alternative.” Obviously, ODOT and GCP could do a better job of being transparent.

Norman Krumholz suggested above that the corridor should not even be built, which begs the question is this project still relevant in 2014? People are driving less (Vehicle Miles Traveled has been declining for nearly a decade) and a new innerbelt bridge is going to be finished soon which will handle more traffic. There are also current plans to redesign the 5-points intersection of E. 55th St and Kinsman road, which would make the Woodland alternative worth reconsidering, especially if public input is actually taken into account.

Furthermore, why build a road to University Circle when there is already a traffic problem? Chris Ronayne, current president of University Circle Incorporated (UCI), recently stated “One-third bike, one-third transit and one-third auto is the commuting goal into University Circle. That’s a reasonable objective.” So the president of UCI is calling for reduced auto traffic in University Circle, while the Opportunity Corridor will create physical walls around transit stations and instead create new infrastructure to bring more traffic to University Circle. Is this really the best use of public funds? I don’t think it is, and recommend that the Opportunity Corridor be reevaluated with more transparency, honesty, and accountability.

You can read my complete report at http://eatrighteous.org/opportunitycorridor/

 

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Tolerating Hate Speech and Misogyny on the News Websites

My friend, a beautiful, intelligent native American woman, wrote a column this weekend in the Plain Dealer explaining why she thinks the Indians’ Chief Wahoo is offensive. It was brave, and respectful and well written.

To the surprise of no one, the comments section immediately devolved into a cesspool ignorance and depravity that has come to characterize commentary on local news issues — particularly when there is a woman or minority concerned.

 

Here’s another gem:

And another:

I was all ready to report the first comment comment, but there didn’t seem to be a way to do it on the site run by the Northeast Ohio Media Group. A lot of times it seems like, if it wasn’t for this type of fifth, there would scarcely be any comments at all. This type of language — hate speech, misogyny — is not just tolerated by this company, I think, it’s part of what it trades in.

I wrote a couple columns for the Plain Dealer, this same kind, unpaid. Both times some genius replied by telling me “not to get my panties in a wad.”

The Plain Dealer has a “community rules” policy where they specifically ban hateful speech. But the company devotes zero effort to enforcing it. In fact, hateful speech is what the comments boards are known for.

They cater to bigots, at the expense of large portions of the community and at the expense of common decency.

Here’s Northeast Ohio Media Group’s bro-in-chief Brandon Blackwell responding to commenters who complained about the paper’s use of the term “hate crime,” a term commenters feel is unfair to white men.

That Blackwell even feels compelled to respond at all to commenters complaining that the paper used to term “hate crime” is telling. And Blackwell wants them to know it’s not their term and that they don’t “market” the type of idea — the widely accepted idea that certain marginalized groups could be targeted for violence and that is extra bad. That’s what the Plain Dealer is careful not to “market.”

Though both the author Mark Naymik and Brandon Blackwell commented on the article and were apparently moderating the discussion, here’s two comments they apparently left standing because they felt were a-ok, no need to respond in any way:

And another:

Scene, Cleveland’s alternative weekly, is just as guilty. Here’s a comment posted about Kelly Blazek, the owner of a local jobs board.

By the way, I complained to the publisher about that comment a month ago, and it still stands. Apparently any woman who becomes the subject of a news article, whether male readers would allow them to perform certain sex acts on them is totally fair game,

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the kind of thing anyone is welcome to publish on Scene’s website.

These publications are making a choice about whose opinion matters, who deserves to be treated with respect — the answer is bigots and bullies. When the Plain Dealer and Scene allow this type of speech to be published a widely-read platform they maintain, they tacitly condone it and profit from it. It’s a really, really bad thing for our community.

But it would be easy to fix. It would just take some minor fixes for these publications to develop a culture that promoted tolerance and welcomed all perspectives — even — gasp! — women from minority groups. The first thing these websites should do, in my opinion, is install a a “Report hate speech” button on every comment, like Facebook does, to allow readers to report this type of trash. Readers can report this stuff, an editor can spend 5% of his time reviewing flagged comments. Problem solved. Respectability restored.

What they’ve done instead, is set the lowest possible standards for their website and helped produce an ugly and embarrassing forum that hurts Northeast Ohio.

It’s way past time we demanded better from them.

–Angie Schmitt

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Roldo on The Pro-Sports Subsidy Machine in Cleveland

NOTE: Venerated Cleveland reporter Roldo Bartimole wrote the following item about the “Sin Tax” up for renewal this May in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County. The tax would provide some $300 million for the city’s three professional sports franchises, for facilities upgrades and repairs. Citizens groups have raised questions about the fairness of this tax, which is issued on cigarette and alcohol, and is paid disproportionally by poor people, contributing to the profits of billionaire sports team owners. A powerful political, business and media coalition is pushing for the tax, even though there has been little analysis or public debate about the spending proposals. Roldo, one of Cleveland’s most knowlegable and sophisticated political observers, says they are pulling out all the stops to delude taxpayers:

City and County politicians are trying to put Cuyahoga County residents in a box on the sin tax.

They are counting on voters to be gullible and a credulous news media to do the selling job, aided by a million dollar ad campaign.

However, I think they have finally outfoxed themselves by taxing themselves into a box – there are too many tax hikes for the public to swallow.

The sports tax is the biggest one.

On the May 6th ballot there will be tax levies, in addition, for schools or cities in Shaker Heights, Pepper Pike, Maple Heights, Seven Hills, Parma, Strongsville, Brooklyn, Olmsted Falls and Bedford Heights. Residents will be taxing themselves at home. It hurts.

In the near future there will be other tax hikes, including renewal of the cigarette tax for arts and culture, not to mention yet unknown tax needs.

But the big push will be to aid, without clear knowledge of neither how the money will be used on these sports facilities nor what other needs they’ll require thereafter. It’s a blank check deal.

I was on the Mansfield Frazier radio (WTAM 1100 Sundays) show twice recently with Cleveland Council President Kevin Kelley.

Kelly’s argument reflects the false reasoning of the teams and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. (You may have noticed numerous TV ads running day and night. You will find once contributions have to be reported that the team owners and GCP member have contributed generously. In 1990 they spent some three-quarters of a million dollars on advertising, which one of its former leaders labeled as bogus.)

Kelley and the corporate establishment want you to believe that the city is boxed in by the lease. That if we don’t vote the new $290 million tax increase (added to hundreds of millions already paid) that the city coffers will be depleted.

Nonsense. Totally.

Defeat of Issue 7 on May 6 will only mean that we reject a 20-year new sin tax that will cost Cuyahoga County residents the $294 million.

 

What the proponents also don’t mention is that taxes continue to be collected for the Browns stadium. They keep flowing.

 

The city imposed, without a vote of the electorate, a number of taxes to pay for the bonds of the Browns stadium. They have some 11 years to run.

Let me list them:

– An 8 percent parking tax in Cleveland worth some $7.1 million a year (though likely more since parking rates have risen since the mid 1990s when the tax was passed). It should produce $78 million for Browns stadium payments.

– A 2 percent increase in the admission tax, estimated at the time at $1.2 million a year. That should bring in another $13.2 million.

– A $2 fee for each car rental that should produce some $7.7 million.

Beyond that the city generously (and stupidly) committed for “comfort” of bondholders an additional $5.3 million a year for 29 years from admission tax revenues. That commits some $58 million in the duration left.

All together that’s $98.9 million in expected taxes in the city plus a commitment of $58 million of extra admission taxes.

If $290 million is added by a yes vote, the public could be indebted with as much as $446 million if the extra admission tax revenue needed to be used.

The Plain Dealer, Crain’s and TV never remember any of this. Journalistic amnesia.

This is an unacceptable price tag.

What will happen when the tax is defeated?

City and County officials and team owners Jimmy Haslam, Dan Gilbert and Larry Dolan will have to seek a more reasonable solution.

They will have to redo the leases.

Now, the politicians, owners and corporate leaders want to convince voters they have no other choices.

The teams cannot walk away from the sweet deals they already have.

The city cannot afford to add sweeteners to the deal.

So it’s REAL time. Time to deal.

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