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Cuyahoga County Council Unanimously Sends Sin Tax Extension to May Ballot

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 9:00 AM

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ideastream file photo by Brian Bull

A measure extending Cuyahoga County's tax on cigarettes and alcohol is headed to the ballot this May. ideastream's Nick Castele reports county council passed the issue unanimously, and it now goes to the voters.

Civic leaders are asking voters to extend the tax for another 20 years to help pay for upgrades to Progressive Field, Quicken Loans Arena and FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Indians, Cavaliers and Browns are hoping tax revenues will support at least $158 million of work on the facilities over the next 10 years—including new scoreboards and other upgrades at the baseball field and basketball arena. (The city of Cleveland has already agreed to pay $2 million a year for 15 years to fund upgrades that include new scoreboards for the Browns.)

Supporters argued the facilities are owned by the public—and taxpayers are bound by lease agreements to pay for upgrades. And if the tax doesn’t pass, they argued, the teams would look to city and county general funds for the money.

Opponents argued a tax on alcohol and cigarettes hurt the low-income people the most. And others, like Josh Demankos, said why not try to renegotiate the leases to benefit taxpayers more?

“I strongly urge you to delay placing this on the ballot until November and use our once-in-a-generation leverage and opportunity to make a better deal,” Demankos said.

It didn’t turn out that way, with all 11 council members voting in favor of placing the tax extension on the ballot.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is running for governor this year, argued in favor of the tax—but he also said supporters are going to have to make the case for how a tax extension would help the community that’s paying it.

“And that discussion is completely reasonable to expect,” FItzGerald said. “And I think if that discussion doesn’t happen, I don’t see this having a prayer of passing.”

The Greater Cleveland Partnership, which represents businesses in Northeast Ohio, will be mounting a public campaign for the issue, urging voters to give the sin tax extension a thumbs-up in May. 

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Economy, Government/Politics

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