Given chance, voters embrace tax cash for team owners

Photo: Peter Pattakos,

Voters rarely get the opportunity to take a stand on public funding of sports stadiums, so when Cleveland went to the polls this week for continued taxpayer subsidies, it provided a good barometer of public sentiment on the issue.

What did we learn? That the vocal opposition to stadiums might be overblown, taxes to support sports stadiums never go away, and voters don’t much care enough about the issue to vote on it.

Cuyahoga County — Cleveland — easily approved continued tax funding for its sports teams when voters went to the polls on Tuesday. It wasn’t close. Fifty-six percent of the few voters who showed up voted to extend “sin taxes” on booze and cigarettes, providing an estimated $260 million to sports teams in the city, teams who are among the worst at their respective sports.

The three major teams — Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers — spent more than $2 million on an ad campaign for a favorable vote. Opponents could only raise $6,500 to try to defeat the effort.

But the teams played hardball. The Indians reportedly fired an usher who refused to wear a “Vote yes” sticker on his uniform.

In a column before the vote, Ralph Nader noted most of the fans who attend sporting events don’t live in the county.

The proposed taxes exclude adjoining counties where fifty percent or more of the paying fans live. Cuyahoga County, which includes the city of Cleveland, already has higher sales and school property taxes than the adjoining counties. Unemployment, prices of necessities and inequality have sky-rocketed in beleaguered Cuyahoga County according to Roldo Bartimole, arguably Cleveland’s greatest investigative reporter of the past half century (see the Cleveland Leader for more information). Any increased taxes – sin or otherwise – should be devoted to the necessities of the local community, not for entertainment.

Big-time sports bosses know that the trump card that enables them to continue with their freeloading ways as crony capitalists is to exploit the spectator joy that comes from being part of a local fan base. The subtext of these demands takes away that joy from those TV watching fans by relocating to another city willing to give away the store. It all reeks of greed, power and extortion.

But given the chance to vote, the people in the county that are subject to the taxes seemed to have little problem with them, even when an alternative “facility charge,” which would’ve shifted costs back to the owners, was proposed.

The county’s sin tax is assesses 4.5 cents per pack of cigarettes, 1.5 cents per 12-ounce bottle of beer, and $3 per gallon of hard liquor.