The PJ Tatler

Ohio Gubernatorial Candidate Proposes 'Win Tax' for Cleveland Sports Teams

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Embattled Democratic Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald threw a hail Mary pass in an attempt to bolster his flagging campaign on Thursday, proposing a ‘win tax’ on Cleveland sports teams. His plan would award 20 percent of Cleveland’s renewed sin tax – estimated at $2.6 million a year — based at least in part on how well the teams perform on the field. In May Cuyahoga County voters approved the extension of the sin tax on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages until 2035 to pay for maintaining Cleveland’s three publicly owned sports buildings.

“If competition is good on the field, maybe competition between these teams for these public dollars makes sense to incentivize them a little bit more,” said FitzGerald, who does not support competition for public dollars in education. “Our fan base is frustrated and they want the sense that their tax money is actually going to be supporting, to some extent, championship teams,” FitzGerald said.

FitzGerald, the current Cuyahoga County executive, showed reporters a slide show of Cleveland sports failures, contending that the city, with it’s 50-year championship drought, has one of the nation’s worst records in professional sports. He suggested there could be a “fan council” to determine which teams are more deserving of the tax revenues and called plans for equal tax sharing “distribution for dummies,” raising some eyebrows since that is the plan favored by Democrat Mayor Frank Jackson.

The “win tax” was immediately panned by nearly everyone in Cleveland. Community leaders from both ends of the political spectrum disagreed with the concept of performance-based competition for public dollars that fund the city’s beleaguered sports teams. 

Joe Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the local chamber of commerce, said that his group supports having the money split evenly.

“Team performance on the field was not an issue presented by the campaign to the voters. We know the teams want to do well on the field, and we don’t want any of these publicly owned buildings to fail to receive adequate funding for much-needed repairs,” Roman said.

Five of six members of the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board also said the plan was a bad idea.

Kevin O’Brien, deputy editorial page editor of the city’s largest newspaper, mocked the “win tax” plan:

If it’s true that the Browns are considering the addition of cheerleaders, FitzGerald’s idea could provide some material for them: “Sin tax, sin tax — that’s our goal! If we don’t win, we’re in the hole!” Or maybe, “Fitzy, Fitzy — he’s our man! If this nakedly populist pantomime of holding Cleveland’s perennially losing sports teams ‘accountable’ can’t win him a few more votes in the gubernatorial race, nothing can!” How about just figuring out which facility needs what from year to year and making a sensible priority list? I know: not political enough.

Editorial board member Thomas Suddes called the plan a “publicity stunt.” Liberal editorial writer Sharon Broussard said it sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit and lamented that she is “losing heart nearly every time FitzGerald opens his mouth these days.”

Editorial writer Peter Krouse said he didn’t think a “win tax” would impact team performance. “When Jimmy Haslam, Dan Gilbert or the Dolans decide to spend money on free agents, they aren’t going to factor in the possibility of getting new carpeting or improved toilets in their respective venues down the road,” Krouse said.

Five out of seven Cleveland City Council members immediately came out against the plan.

Councilman Dale Miller, a Democrat, said, “I think the sole criterion should be how to best facilitate proper maintenance. That’s what the taxpayers want. They want us to use this money effectively so that these facilities last for a long time.”

FitzGerald, he gaffe-prone gubernatorial candidate who will challenge Governor Kasich in November, mostly avoided talking about the “sin tax” during the campaign for its passage, barely endorsing it. Asked why he didn’t propose his plan while voters were considering the tax extension on the May ballot, FitzGerald blamed the ballot language. “They got the [limited] details they got on it, and they still decided to vote for it. Now it’s our job to decide how the money’s going to be spent,” he said.

The Cleveland City Council has the final say on how to distribute the proceeds of the tax. The Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers have not yet weighed in on Fitzgerald’s proposal.