New group steps up efforts to defeat sin tax

CLEVELAND -- Baseball season is about to start. Spring is coming. And the debate over renewing the sin tax is heating up.

A new group, The Coalition Against the Sin Tax, is hoping to make its case to voters primarily through social media -- a website and Twitter handle.

Downtown lawyer Peter Pattakos is the group's chairman.

"Our objectives are transparency and fairness. ... This has just been rushed through. ... There has been no meaningful public debate about exactly what our obligations are," he said.

"We are looking for a better deal for the public or at least being able to understand what the deal is," he said.

Pattakos says this sin tax campaign is "doing something because it's easy and not necessarily because it's the right thing."

Cuyahoga County voters will decide May 6 whether to renew the existing sin tax on cigarettes and alcohol. It would be for 20 years and pay for needed repairs at The Q, Progressive Field and FirstEnergy Stadium.

Tax backers argue it's a small tax needed to take care of publicly owned buildings that the city and county have lease obligations requiring them to maintain.

Proponents argue the facilities events' have brought millions of visitors and billions of dollars to spur development and business downtown.

The coalition claims to have 1,600 supporters on board backing the idea of reworking the link between professional sports teams and the community.

Pattakos says: "They are public when it comes to paying the costs, and they are private when it comes to the owners taking profits out. We think this ballot issue is a great opportunity to reevaluate that relationship."

The coalition was built on Facebook efforts of tax opponent Alan Glazen. He was involved in the first two sin tax campaigns and claims their messages were based on false claims of jobs and benefits.

He believes if the tax is defeated, the city and county should seek to rework leases with the teams. He also claims the money raised -- an estimated $260 million to $290 million -- won't be enough to cover the public repair obligations.

"We are going to throw $300 million at people without even requiring to say exactly how it will be spent," he said.

He continued, "We are not going to give welfare money to billionaires any more. We can draw a line in the sand and say 'That's it.' "

Nancy Lesic, spokeswoman for the pro-sin tax campaign Keep Cleveland Strong, says: "The statement that this money goes to billionaire owners is false. Not a penny goes to team owners. All of the money would go to making capital repairs for these three publicly owned buildings, which the public is obligated to make."

"His comment that 'We are going to throw $300 million at people without saying how it will be spent' is also grossly misleading," she said. "The teams publicly outlined dozens of specific examples of how it will be spent. These misleading comments contribute to a rapidly growing list of inaccurate statements being made by this group that are clearly designed to be provocative and incendiary.

"If this penny and a half per beer tax is not renewed, the cost of these looming repairs will fall to the city -- putting critical city services at risk."

This weekend, the Keep Cleveland Strong pro-tax campaign will begin running ads featuring real Clevelanders, rather than team owners or politicians.

The first one features Billy Chambers, a local Irish band member, speaking from a bar near the Flats.

Below is an interview with Coalition Against the Sin Tax Chairman Peter Pattakos.

He lives in Bath, not Cuyahoga County. He is caring for elderly parents.

He says he is heavily invested in Cleveland and eventually intends to move into the county.


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