Cleveland | Sin tax renewal faces uphill fight

CLEVELAND -- The official effort to successfully get a renewal of a sin tax on the ballot and approved by Cuyahoga County voters in the May primary starts Tuesday.

And it promises to be an uphill fight.

The money would be used for ongoing upkeep and repairs of Progressive Field, The Q and FirstEnergy Stadium.

All three facilities were paid for with sin tax dollars. The tax runs out next year. If the sin tax is not renewed, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County will be on the hook for future repair costs.

Public sentiment seems to be loudly against a tax renewal.

A survey of county voters taken at the West Side Market brought overwhelmingly negative remarks.

"These guys are making incredible amounts of money on their franchises," said Keith Anderson of Strongsville.

Cleveland's Pebbles Bush said, "The teams have more than enough money to foot the bill for their facilities."

And the failure to field playoff or even consistently competitive teams will also be a factor.

It's unclear who will be the face and voice for the campaign.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald and Mayor Frank Jackson will support it but seem unlikely to step forward as the pitchmen. FitzGerald's running for governor. Jackson shouldered a big school levy campaign in 2012.

Joe Roman of the Greater Cleveland Partnership is taking the lead role for now.

The partnership helped get a provision in the state budget to permit the county to put the renewal on the ballot.

Eight of 11 council members have until Feb. 5 to do that.

Many say they need more information about how the money will be distributed and what it will buy.

The measure for a 20-year extension will be introduced Tuesday, with public hearings held on successive weeks.

The tax has been raising $13 million to $14 million a year.

The tax is 4.5 cents a pack on cigarettes, 16 cents a gallon on beer, 32 cents per gallon on wine and $3 a gallon for liquor.

Roman says there will be a massive education campaign to remind voters the tax is not an increase and tell them what sports teams mean to Greater Cleveland. Also expect to be reminded that team owners have paid for improvements above and beyond lease requirements.

"There are only 15 cities in the country that have these three professional teams. We have three very competitive facilities. We need to keep them that way," Roman said.

The Browns' deal with the city of Cleveland for stadium improvements is separate and apart from the sin tax issue. Cleveland's decision to spend $30 million dollar of city money on the package of upgrades may cost the sin tax some votes in Cleveland.

The facilities are all publicly owned. And the city and county have legal lease obligations to pay costs which now have no other funding source.

A defeat of the renewal would likely mean cuts in other services, personnel or programs.

There won't be any presentations by the teams at Tuesday's meeting. There will be opportunity for public comment.

Joe Roman answers Tom Beres' questions about the renewal in the attached interview.


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