44% of Cuyahoga County voters reject sin tax subsidy for Cleveland’s pro sports owners

by Cleveland Frowns on May 7, 2014

Below is the text of a press release issued by the Coalition Against the Sin Tax (C.A.S.T.) in response to yesterday’s election results, with links added for reference.


Yesterday, by a margin of approximately 56 to 44 percent (101,717 votes to 78,741), Cuyahoga County voters approved Issue 7, also known as the Sin Tax to fund maintenance and improvements to Cleveland’s three pro sports facilities.

Unfortunately, the pro-Sin Tax “Keep Cleveland Strong” campaign, funded primarily by the City’s pro sports team owners, was able to outspend the opposition by millions of dollars and a 30-1 ratio to run a campaign to convince taxpayers that by voting No on the Sin Tax, Cleveland would somehow be weakened. We have disagreed with that premise from the start, and over 78,000 people and 44% of the County’s voters shared in our disagreement. These voters recognized the lack of wisdom in the proposed plan to hand the owners this $260 million-plus subsidy on terms established in the 1990s, with no public call to reevaluate the fairness of these terms, and no meaningful examination of alternative funding mechanisms. This $260 million-plus subsidy will add to the $1 billion-plus in public money that the owners have already received to run the hugely profitable sports franchises.

We challenged our elected officials, civic organizations and leaders of our business community to think differently. We wanted a better way of approaching our obligations to the owners, and recognition that the status quo in Cleveland isn’t good enough. In a city with more than half its children living in poverty, one of the very worst public school systems in the nation, third-world infant mortality rates, a rapidly shrinking population, and a vanishing job market and middle class, it could hardly have been a worse time to have rubber-stamped the Sin Tax on terms from the 1990’s with no questions asked.


Yet we are encouraged that even despite the vast disparity in campaign spending, and even despite the misleading threats employed by the pro-Sin Tax campaign, 44% of Cuyahoga County voters still understood that there is no good reason why the team owners can’t pay their own costs to run their businesses when the County has so many other urgent needs. We are certain that this is far from the end of the conversation about the relationship between the team owners and the public. If we were able to raise awareness of critical issues relating to public priorities, inequality, fairness, and transparency in making such large-scale public investments, then we consider our effort a success.

“When we had a chance to speak to voters about what was really at issue in this campaign, we found that they were overwhelmingly opposed to Issue 7,” said C.A.S.T. chair Peter Pattakos. “There is every reason to believe that the Sin Tax would have been defeated had the funding for the opposing campaigns been remotely balanced. When there are no limits on the influence of money on elections, democracy suffers. As much as anything, this campaign has shown how important it is for people to stand up for themselves in a cash-soaked political landscape in which elected officials and the mainstream press have proven to be unable to fulfill their intended roles. We’re optimistic that this is an early phase of a broader and highly beneficial public awakening to this reality.”

  • guidedbyvenkman

    My question is…when does this kind of crap turn me off of sports in general? I can’t imagine my life without Cleveland sports, but when you put the sadness of this Sin Tax issue on top of the embarrassing Chief Wahoo debate, the shadiness of Dan Gilbert’s casino dealings (and the general tailspin the Cavs are in) and of course the eternal failings of the expansion Browns…why do we even bother? What joy do we take from this?

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Yeah these are the big questions.

    • bupalos

      It’s tough. I square the circle by drawing a line between what is Cleveland sports–a thing that I’ve loved fairly unconditionally for going on 40 years–and the illegitimate civic hostage-taking that is civic sports ownership. I admit it can be a hard line to keep from blurring at times though, especially when you see how many “fellow” fans feed into these problems too.

    • alexb

      For precisely the reason you just elucidated, Browns football is the only thing in sports I allow myself to care about anymore. It’s the last vestige of the ego. The last thing I allow my ego to remain at least semi attached to in the realm of professional sports…with just a dash MMA thrown in there. The corporate nature of professional sports in this country has truly ruined what was supposed to be one of the purest expressions of human nature on this planet. I just heard on the radio the other day that some football players are now going to become publically traded athletes? Like you can fucking buy shares in them? No thanks I’m out. If that’s what the financial institutions have to resort to in order to keep propping up a failed and decaying monetary structure, we’re finished. If wall street has to resort to gambling on athletes now to keep the bubble going, it’s over. I want no part of sports anymore.

  • Warburton MacKinnon

    Surprised you guys made it that close,keep up the good fight,in another 5 to 10 years you’d win no matter how much they spend against you. See what I wrote late on the last post you made Frowns,you obviously make a huge difference…but your time on this anyway is not yet NOW.

    • Steve

      Unfortunately, we’re 20 years away from being able to do much to fix the issue.

      Maybe CAST should start collecting now for the 2035 battle. They’ll obviously need every last penny they can get.

  • Tony M.

    At least maybe we can sleep securely in the knowledge that Jimmy Haslam will be behind bars before this comes up for a vote again.

    • beeej

      If the “affluenza” kid from Texas who killed 4 and injured 12 while DUI ended up with probation, do you really think Haslam is going to do any time behind bars?

      • Tony M.

        We can always dream … something we Browns, Tribe & Cavs fans have a ton of experience doing …

  • nj0

    the absurdity of absurdities

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns
  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Roldo: “20 more years of tribute to the sports team owners.”


  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Eugene McCormick at the Cleveland Leader:

    “Undoubtedly, the Keep Cleveland Strong campaign had reasons to worry going into election day. Kevin Kelley, the Cleveland City Council President who was the public face of the Keep Cleveland Strong campaign, acknowledged that their internal polling showed a close race heading into the final day of the campaign. While that may seem like a misnomer looking at the 56% win at the polls, a closer look at the numbers show that the people who waited until election day were virtually deadlocked casting their ballots. The measure only won by 2,000 votes on the people who cast their ballots yesterday. Issue 7 built its sizable lead during the early voting period which was the biggest reason for its passage.”


    • Warburton MacKinnon

      Kind of my point,the last generation will vote somewhat out of fear having been biten before,the new generation will actually try and judge more fairly having not been bitten. Time is on your side even if money is not(this is not saying those of my generation or older won’t/can’t judge fairly but it’s more likely many would see the vote against Art in the past leading to losing the Browns,although it is’t actually a fact….it has been said by many long and loud that it is….).

  • guidedbyvenkman

    Do we get to start subsidizing Cedar Point soon? Or maybe the new movie theatre being built in Cuyahoga Falls? Both of those are places that bring people into a certain area for the purposes of entertainment. Oh wait, I guess those aren’t “publicly owned.” My mistake. It just seems so similar!

    So can we start letting Cleveland’s homeless sleep in the Gateway facilities when sports aren’t taking place? I mean, if they’re publicly owned entities, we should be able to use them in the off hours. Maybe we can let high school teams work out there if their schools lack proper gyms.

  • Joe Bialek

    This issue is the absurdity of absurdities. Let me get this straight: the purpose of the Sin Tax is to gouge those who purchase alcohol and cigarettes not because anyone is trying to discourage consumption but rather so the County can use that money to pay for sports stadiums that do not produce anything but a fleeting moment witnessing the passing of a football, the dribbling of a basketball and the throwing of a baseball so that such a minute tidbit of diversion can be enjoyed by all. The stupidity of this proposition is enough to make your head spin even though the spin doctors advocating passage of this nonsense are already doing a pretty good job of hypnotizing the voters to actually consider supporting it. At least the Robber Barons of the previous centuries provided something tangible such as oil, steel, railroads etcetera. These team owners do not even provide one tangible thing that could ever be considered with the term “value added.” Almost everyone discusses this “enterprise” as though it is the same thing as industry {which it is not}. The price of admission is essentially a voluntary tax paid by those who can afford it to pay those who don’t need it. If this isn’t a transfer of wealth I don’t know what is.

    The real outrage here is the fact that taxes on alcohol and cigarettes will not be used to aid in the reduction of addiction {hence the reference to “sin”} but rather to stuff the pockets of all three teams who could easily afford to pay for the repairs themselves. The vote was rammed through the last time {under somewhat suspicious circumstances} and hear we go again. But this time…not so fast! We the voters of Cuyahoga County are going to fight the proponents on this one and we don’t care if the teams up and go somewhere else {please see my views on entertainment below} because quite frankly there are simply more important things than sports and the unearned money that comes with it. Those in public office who are too stupid and lazy to find other ways to grow a major American city need to resign and leave their self-seeking political ambitions on the scrapheap of history. Don’t ever let it be said that this was time when the tide ran out on Cuyahoga County but rather was the time when the voters rose up to welcome the rising tide of change and rebuked this pathetic paradigm our previous elected leaders embraced. Let the battle be joined.

    And now to the real underlying issue at hand:

    One of the most disturbing facts about our capitalist nation is the misappropriation of funds directed to the salaries of entertainers. Everyone should agree that the value an athlete, movie star, talk-show host, team-owner, etcetera brings to the average citizen is very small. Granted, they do offer a minuscule of diversion from our daily trials and tribulations as did the jesters in the king’s court during the middle ages. But to allow these entertainers to horde such great amounts of wealth at the expense of more benevolent societal programs is unacceptable. They do not provide a product or a service so why are they rewarded as such?

    Our society is also subjected to the “profound wisdom” of these people because it equates wealth with influence. Perhaps a solution to this problem and a alternative to defeated school levies, crumbling infrastructures, as well as all the programs established to help feed, clothe and shelter those who cannot help themselves would be to tax this undeserved wealth. Entertainers could keep 1% of the gross earnings reaped from their endeavor and 99% could be deposited into the public coffers.

    The old ideas of the redistribution of wealth have failed, and it is time to adapt to modern-day preferences. People put their money into entertainment above everything else; isn’t it time to tap that wealth? Does anyone think this will reduce the quality of entertainment? It seems to me that when entertainers received less income, the quality was much higher.

  • Woods

    You did yoeman’s work in educating the public on this insane incestuous privatization of public funds.

    I am guessing that I am not the first person to ask this…are you interested in getting elected so you could attempt to add a bit of common sense from the inside?

    I don’t have the stomach for public service, but I am proud of my brother Tom Woods. He is running for reelection in Montana House District 62. http://tomwoodsformontana.com

    I will continue to follow the progress of CAST and attempt to educate my family members that still live and vote in Cuyuhoga county.

    Thank you for the work that you did. Keep your head up.

  • cubejockey
  • Phil

    While I side with the author on this issue, I dislike the use of the word “oligarchy” and the general undertone that it is the money that won it. Frankly, their side was far more organized and their message was much simpler. Having more money helped, but they connected with the voter better in my opinion. Social media is the great equalizer when it comes to funding and their messaging trumped ours. This movement against Issue 7 should have been built over the last 20 years…not the last few months.

    Any politician who supported the measure (the mayor, Kelley) needs to be held to account. This outrage now felt with the passage of the measure should be directed toward them.

    Also, let’s not pretend that the circumstances the city finds itself in today could not have been avoided or at least partially mitigated. The city has been run into the ground by the same political party which does nothing but backpat each other at every level (mayor, council, school board, committees, etc). Detroit is the same. It’s a disgrace. Time to clean house.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      I think it’s insane to suggest that money isn’t what won this thing and to think that “social media” could by itself overcome a $3 million 30-1 spending deficit. Yeah, the other side was far more organized. $3 million buys a lot of organization.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Here’s a document breaking down the Issue 7 election results. The City of Cleveland rejected the sin tax, as did several of the working class inner ring suburbs. Not surprisingly, the sin tax received the strongest support from the County’s wealthiest areas. This has been your latest installment of the rich convincing the middle class to take from the poor to give to the rich so the rich can make even more of the middle class poor. God bless America.


  • guidedbyvenkman

    I’ve decided to just learn how to enjoy watching the world burn, kind of like the Joker in The Dark Knight. Makes it way easier to ignore my student loans.

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