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Pluto: Why smokers and drinkers pay for stadium upkeep instead of wealthy owners
Terry Pluto says lease deals signed decades ago keep the Browns, Cavs and Indians in town while taxyapers fund upgrades

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
The sin tax could raise as much as $13 million a year for the next 20 years for the Q, Progressive Field and Browns FirstEnergy Stadium. If voters reject it in May, the city and the county could be forced to cover improvement costs from their general funds.
Courtesy of Brandon Davis
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There will be a lot of talk in Cuyahoga County for the next three months about who should be responsible for maintaining Cleveland’s three professional sports facilities. Residents will decide at the polls in May. The county is asking voters to extend the sin tax on alcohol and cigarettes for another 20 years. The tax that expires next year has helped build and maintain the homes of the Indians, Cavs and Browns for nearly a quarter century. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks about why residents shoulder stadium upgrades instead of wealthy team owners.

LISTEN: Terry Pluto on the Cuyahoga County sin tax for sports stadiums

Other options:
MP3 Download (3:43)

Sin tax is all about decades-old lease agreements 
Terry Pluto
acknowledges the leases Cleveland signed with its three professional sports teams in the 1990's lean the team owners way “like it or not.”

“For example, on the Indians lease, the team will pay up to $500,000 a year for capital repairs. But if the cement is cracking or the walls are coming down or whatever, somebody else has to pay for it. Generally, the way those leases were set up, the city owns the building and they have to keep it maintained.”

Most sports teams have similar leases with cities 
Cleveland wasn’t alone in signing such deals – and may have done better than a lot of other cities desperate to attract or hang onto their sports teams.

“Everywhere in the 90's, these leases are so team-favorable. At least the Indians and the Cavs last year did pay about $3 million combined in rent. Now, they’re getting back all kinds of things for capital improvements… (But) according the team stats, the Indians have put about $60 million into Jacobs-now-Progressive-Field, since it’s been open, for what they call improvements. … And I know the Cavs have put a ton of money into it (Quicken Loans Arena) when Dan Gilbert bought (the team) -- over $100 million.”

Were their alternatives?
“I guess originally, you could have said, ‘OK, Indians: If you want your own ballpark, build it. And then the Indians probably now would be playing somewhere else.”

But that doesn’t mean no changes can or should be made now, Pluto says. The Indians lease at Progressive Field expires in 2023. The Cavs at Quicken Loans in 2027. And the Browns at FirstEnergy in 2029. The issue on the May ballot will extend the sin tax for another 20 years.

So, says Pluto, “This is where if I got to be god-of-the-lease-sin-tax-debate for one day, I would say: ‘Alright this sin tax expires in July 2015. We’re doing a 20-year extension. By my math, that goes to 2035. By the math, those leases should all go to 2035.”

What if sin tax fails?
The reality, however, is that if the sin tax fails, as of July 2015, the city will have to pay for the maintenance out of its general fund, not through a special tax on cigarettes and alcohol that’s spread countywide.

“The sin tax is still the least painful way to pay for it,” and Pluto says that special tax would be unlikely to go toward other, perhaps better, causes. “If the Indians leave, I don’t think for example suddenly they’re going to double the money they put into Cleveland City Schools.”

“I’m giving the reality of how it is. There’s a lease; these rich guys got the favorable lease. They don’t really care a ton about turning into Mother Teresa overnight to take care of everybody here."

“I’m not saying the Indians, Cavs and Browns are civic treasures, but they’re important to the area. A lot of people follow them and it’s a great diversion.”

Terry Pluto on new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan
Other options:  MP3 Download (7:35)

Related WKSU Stories

Cuyahoga council OKs sin tax extension unanimously, but hints voters may be a harder sell
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Browns send Cleveland the bill for stadium upgrades
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cleveland City Council approves stadium up grade funding
Monday, November 25, 2013

Cuyahoga's sin tax: Nickels for billionaires or a community investment?
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The push begins to renew Cuyahoga's sin tax
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Listener Comments:

Sure,diversion from critical issues,as usual.Have you ever had a tire blow out in a chuckhole on your way to a stadium or arena?

Posted by: sickofit (Cleveland) on February 5, 2014 11:02AM
The team that wins a world championship first should get free rent and half of the sin tax for 5 years. That would motivate these pretenders to stop tricking us that they are trying to win.

Posted by: Tom (Wadsworth,ohio) on February 5, 2014 2:02AM
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