The New York Times recently published a column by Michael Powell titled “Sports Owners Dip Into the Public’s Purse, Despite Their Billions in the Bank.” The piece focused on Cleveland and last year’s county-wide ballot issue on the “sin tax,” in which the local pro sports owners, with the help of their corporate sponsors, spent $3 million on campaign advertising to secure some $300 million in tax dollars to fund their privately owned franchises. The owners’ campaign slogan was “Keep Cleveland Strong,” a not-so-subtle and not-at-all-credible threat that one or more of the Browns, Cavaliers, or Indians would leave Cleveland if they didn’t receive the subsidy.
Powell’s column freshly raises familiar questions about why a struggling county would spend so much public money to subsidize hugely profitable businesses owned by billionaires. It also raises questions about why the Times would care to focus on the Cleveland sin tax fight so long after the fact, with the subsidy now stuck on Cuyahoga County taxpayer’s bill until 2035. But it’s an issue that keeps coming up across the US, most recently in Milwaukee with the NBA’s Bucks, and with St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego’s respective NFL teams threatening to move to LA. And more generally speaking, billionaires sticking it to civilians with unsustainable debt loads is a hot topic worldwide.
Powell gets to the heart of the matter in pointing out that: