CLEVELAND, Ohio — On the eve of a vote that could either extend Cleveland’s existing relationship with its major-league sports teams or alter it dramatically, both supporters and opponents of the sin tax extension believe voting with them is a vote for Cleveland’s future.
On Tuesday, Cuyahoga County voters will decide whether to extend the tax for another 20 years, raising about $260 million, money that would be used to pay down the debts on the two stadiums and the arena that are the homes of the Browns, the Indians and the Cavs.
The tax is 4.5 cents on a pack of cigarettes, a penny and a half on a beer, six cents on a bottle of wine, $3 on a gallon of hard liquor, plus taxes on mixed beverages and cider.
Supporters say it has a proven track record of building stadiums, keeping the sports teams, and reinvigorating downtown Cleveland.
“This is a small tax, it is not a tax increase,” said Joe Roman, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership. “And your beer prices won’t change even if the sin tax is not passed. Here’s an opportunity for the next generation to make sure we stay a major-league city for a long time to come.”
But opponents said the tax is unfair in part because it hits lower-income people hard, and because of the length of the proposed extension.
“None of the teams’ leases at this point extend beyond 15 years,” said William Tarter, Jr., the vice-chair of the Coalition Against the Sin Tax.
“So, as taxpayers,” Tarter said, “we’re being asked to commit 20 years when we have not got the same type of commitment back.”
City leaders have warned that if the extension fails, money to pay off the stadiums and for repairs may have to come from the general revenue fund.
Opponents say the region should look for other funding sources besides a tax or dipping into the general fund.
They have suggested a $3.25 “facility fee” to be paid by ticket holders to all events at First Energy Stadium, Progressive Field and the Q.
They argue the sin tax is an old idea whose time has passed.
“If you think we need to identify a better way, a more fair way,” Tarter said, “than voting ‘no’ on Issue 7 is the first step to start that.”
“We need to stay fresh, we need to stay current,” Roman said, “but this one works. And unlike a lot of taxes, we know exactly where the dollars are going.”
County voters will have the final say on Tuesday.
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