Clevelanders Discuss Replacing Sin Tax With Win Tax


Voters in the Cleveland area renewed a tax on alcohol and cigarettes to fund upgrades to professional sports stadiums. A new proposal would require teams to compete for that money by playing better.

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Our last word in business today - what have you done for me lately? Cleveland sports teams are not known for their success. I'm going to be in a lot of trouble with my friends from Cleveland pointing that out, but it's true. Now voters in Cleveland have just renewed at tax on alcohol and cigarettes, a so-called sin tax to fund upgrades to the city's sports venues. But one official, who is also running for governor, is proposing that the amount of cash each team gets should be based on how much they actually win. Nick Castele from member station WCPN reports.

NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: The last major Cleveland team to win a world championship were the Browns in 1964. Since then, Cleveland has had some close calls but no big victories. Now Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald says taxpayers should use the recently passed sin tax as a bargaining chip. He says one-fifth of the revenues raised or less than $3 million a year should be handed out based on how well the teams play.

ED FITZGERALD: If competition is good on the field, maybe competition between these teams for these public dollars make sense.

CASTELE: In a play on sin tax, he's calling it a win tax. Those who watch public deals with sports teams haven't heard of anyone trying this before.

NEIL DEMAUSE: My first thought was, well, that's kind of wacky.

CASTELE: Neil deMause is a writer and frequent watchdog of pro sports deals. Though he doesn't expect the idea to go anywhere, he says it might at least encourage teams to acknowledge their public support.

DEMAUSE: I'm not sure that's necessarily the best way of getting at it, but it's a interesting conversation to start having at least.

CASTELE: But Mark Rosentraub at the University of Michigan, who helped renegotiate some of Cleveland's deals, says fans already reward and punish teams based on performance.

MARK ROSENTRAUB: When teams don't perform as well, attendance declines, team profits decline. And so the market is already doing, I think, what is being suggested.

CASTELE: Other Cleveland officials are questioning whether the plan is doable, and Republicans call Democrat Ed Fitzgerald's gambit a media stunt. There's also no plan, yet, for how to measure success. Playoff appearances? Winning percentage? How do you grade an NBA team against an NFL or major-league baseball team? Fitzgerald says he'd leave those questions to the experts - an appointed panel of diehard sports fans. For NPR News, I'm Nick Castele in Cleveland.

GREENE: Keep the hope alive, Cleveland fans. That's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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