Perspective | Sin tax vote: Realists vs. idealists

Here's a question for Cuyahoga County voters -- are you a realist or an idealist?

The answer to that may have more bearing on how you vote on extending the sin tax to pay for stadium repairs than if you are Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, young or old or Clevelander or suburbanite.

The realist's reasons to vote for the sin tax are both simple and expedient.

It's not a new tax. It's been in place so long and most people regard the pennies per pack of smokes or beer as no big deal.

And busy sports facilities have been a major factor in reviving downtown and providing lots of hospitality industry jobs.

Cleveland's three sports facilities are owned by the public. There is a need to make expensive repairs to keep them in major league condition. And because of leases negotiated decades ago, the city and county are responsible for footing the bill for those fixes.

And if the tax is defeated, there's a chance cuts would have to be made in personnel or programs that city and county residents rely upon. That would be a very unpleasant reality.

And many realists accept the fact that, like it or not, being a major league city comes with a price -- some form of expected taxpayer support for teams and their playgrounds.

But realists have some blind spots.

There are many unanswered questions if the tax passes. How will the money be split between teams and facilities? Who will decide that?

Will fixing the Q's roof take precedence over concrete or heating and air conditioning issues at Progressive Field?

The sin tax will deliver much less money than is needed for the lease-obligated repairs. Where will the rest of that funding come from?

Many supporters accept it's an imperfect solution. They say pass it first. We'll figure out details later.

Now, if you are an idealist, you fundamentally believe the sin tax is unfair and regressive. It taps one group -- smokers and drinkers. It's Robin Hood in reverse, taxing ordinary people to benefit wealthy teams and players by creating nicer facilities that will help them make money.

And while visitors buying cigarettes or alcohol in Cuyahoga County get tapped for the tax, there's a disconnect between many poor and middle-class county taxpayers who cannot afford to attend sports events or concerts at facilities they paid to build and are now being asked to keep in top shape.

Idealists believe the sin tax is a time to make a statement that "enough is enough" and some other tax formula needs to be renegotiated. They see defeating the tax as an outcome that would resonate in other cities having similar debates.

Clevelanders, both realists and idealists, love the Indians, Cavs and Browns, perhaps more than the teams' records warrant.

Will voters go for what's doable or ask to find some other way?

A campaign backed by the teams, business and political leaders and unions would seem to have the upper hand.

Idealists are hoping a tax-weary public turns out in big numbers.

We'll know if reality trumps ideals or vice versa May 6.


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