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Should Cuyahoga County renew the ‘sin tax’

James W. Wade III | 1/22/2014, 11:21 a.m.
The money, which projects to $260 million over the next 20 years, would pay for maintenance for FirstEnergy Stadium, Progressive ...

The Cuyahoga County Council has started to talk about the sin tax that many have been split on for years. It’s time to renew the county’s tax on cigarettes at 4.5 cents a pack, 16 cents per gallon on beer, 32 cents per gallon on wine and mixed beverages, 24 cents per gallon of hard cider and $3 per gallon of hard liquor.

This tax was voted on to build Gund Arena (Quicken Loans Arena) and Jacobs Field from 1990 through 2012. They raised $320 million.

The County Council has to vote on the sin tax before February 5, in order to meet the deadline to be presented to voters on the May 2014 ballot.

“This is our property. We own these places. If the Indians and Cavaliers packed up and left Cleveland, we will still own these buildings and places,” said County Councilman Pernell Jones Jr.

Jones, who is sponsoring the tax renewal legislation, talked about how he supports measure under the expectation that county residents who pay the sin tax would be hired to perform the work on the stadiums. “I do understand the political dynamics here... But I see this as an opportunity to make a difference for the community,” he said.

Representatives from Cleveland’s corporate community and the Indians, Cavaliers and Browns will be meeting trying to present their reasons for why council should put a ballot proposal before voters in May that would extend the current county-wide taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

The current sin tax that helped build the facilities will expire July 2015. The teams say renewing the sin tax is necessary to cover the costs of desperately needed repairs and upgrades at the publicly owned sports facilities.

Jones seems to have a great passion for this legislation and has the passion to do what he needs to do to make it happen. “It is not a given, we need to discuss this and talk to the community about the benefit of doing this or of not doing it,” said Jones.

It’s now known that representatives from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration and from Gateway, the non-profit organization that enforces the leases at Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena, will also be at the public hearing to support the request. They say that without an extension of the sin tax, the city and county’s general funds, which are filled with more of your tax money, could be tapped for repairs.

The money, which projects to $260 million over the next 20 years, would pay for maintenance for FirstEnergy Stadium, Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena. Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell shared they will have two public hearings scheduled for Jan. 21 and Jan. 28 to debate the renewal and to get more information from the Cavs and Indians on how the money will be used. Another hearing will be scheduled if needed.

Council President Ellen C. Connally wants to make sure this is done right.

“We reserve the right that we may have some other special meetings on the sin tax issue because it is such an important issue, and we want to make sure all sides are heard,” Connally said.

Many of the fans have already complained that they are paying all the taxes for these places and can’t even smoke at them. “I am sure, when the meeting start, we will hear from both sides the good and the bad of why we should or shouldn’t not renew it,” said Jones.