Sin tax backers and foes square off at City Club

CLEVELAND -- It was a two-on-two verbal showdown at the City Club,

Backers of renewing the sin tax took on its critics.

City Council President Kevin Kelley and Cavs and Q President Len Komoroski made the case for the tax.

Lawyer Peter Pattakos of the Coalition Against the Sin Tax teamed with skyped-in Neil deMause. DeMause runs the website and is a national critic of taxpayer-funded professional sports facilities.

The debate started with Kelley making the point the city and county are on the hook for repair costs because of lease obligations negotiated back in the Gateway days.

He said, "We have to pay these obligations we have. The only question is will it come from the sin tax or the general fund" that pays for police, firefighters, street repairs and trash collection.

Pattakos responded, "Our partners are telling us they have to get every penny of this $260 million. ... That we are the ones who are going to have the screws put to us and we are going to suffer. ... They do this without opening their books, without the public having the first clue how much profit they are taking out of these things."

Teams have made hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs they did not have to, Komoroski said, adding that that would continue if the tax were defeated but claimed Cleveland's teams are comparatively favorable to the city and Gateway.

"By any guise, it would be viewed as a publicly friendly lease. ... We invest more dollars in our facility that any comparable market in the NBA," he said.

DeMause argued for redoing leases in light of current conditions. The city and county are struggling to cope with big state budget cuts. Cavs and Indians leases were redone once before when Gateway was in financial straights.

"It's a negotiation here, and if we decide we don't want to approve the sin tax ... what are the teams' options? What are the city's options? And what can we sit down with and see that we can negotiate," he asked.

The May 6 vote is five weeks away.


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