No one is in Jesus’ position to be without sin, but we can heed his advice and correct our sins to avoid eternal damnation along with the hypocrites who judge us.
I am referring specifically to sin tax initiatives passed in 1990 and 1995 by the voters of Cuyahoga County for the construction of our beloved Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, and First Energy Stadium. In each instance, the public has committed to and spent millions of dollars while receiving little direct revenue in return; some would consider this a sin in itself.
The issue of sin taxes has resurfaced because of the recent naming rights deal for the former Cleveland Browns Stadium. When the deal was announced, my first thought was, “great!” The city owns the stadium; consequently that means more money for the city, but that is where I was wrong and the sins begin. Our politicians, perhaps in their desperation to return football to Cleveland, crafted a sweetheart deal for the new owners of the Browns. Under the terms of the agreement, the residents of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County would build the owners a stadium in addition to bearing the costs to maintain that stadium. In exchange, the owners would simply have to pay $250,000 a year in rent and could sell the naming rights to the stadium and keep all of the revenue. It may sound like a bad deal for the public, but let’s look at the numbers. Residents paid an estimated $202 million to build Cleveland Browns Stadium plus approximately $175,000 a year to maintain. The initial lease was 30 years so we are looking at $254.5 million dollars in costs borne by the public. In exchange, we received $7.5 million in rent and lost an estimated $100 million for the naming rights recently sold. After doing the math, it’s still a bad deal for the residents.
This simple analysis ignores the external economic benefits of hosting professional sports teams. Sporting events draw people from around the country, who inevitably park, dine, book a room, and take in other entertainment venues - all benefiting the local economy and generating additional tax revenues. I myself love sports and was devastated when the Browns left town, but there has to be a way to craft a more balanced deal. The expiration of the sin tax in 2015 and the almost certain need for renewal provides urgency to the conversation.
I have always wondered why in a sprawling region, why are Cuyahoga County residents the only ones asked to bear the burden of furnishing stadiums for regional teams. How many people from outside Cuyahoga County attend Cavs, Indians, or Browns games? Why not extend the sin tax to all counties that touch Cuyahoga County? We have talked about regionalism in terms of tax sharing, transportation, schools, etc, but what about our beloved Browns? No one likes to share taxes, schools or roads, but we all share in misery of another Browns defeat. Let’s all share the burden of building the “factory of sadness”. Much like the Gateway complex, a separate board/commission could be created having multi-county representation to oversee the maintenance and capital improvements of all sports stadiums. To be inclusive, the tax would fund all publicly owned sport facilities within the taxed counties. The commission would decide how monies are spent to maintain Progressive Field in Cleveland, Canal Park in Akron, and Classic Park in Eastlake. Under this proposal, we as a region would have decided that sports facilities are important to us and we are willing to raise our glasses or smoke a cigarette to support them.
My proposed changes would most definitely require action by the Ohio General Assembly, so don’t hold your breath! In the meantime, you can join Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins on the Civic Commons as he discusses restructuring the current sin tax structure.
Copyright © 2013 Jason Russell; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
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