Dear Cleveland: Our condolences
Pittsburghers love trashing Cleveland. But they should have sympathy for North Coast taxpayers, and in surrounding Cuyahoga County, who are on a very long hook for hundreds of millions of dollars to improve professional sports facilities.
Taxpayers already had been tapped for $800 million for those structures. And as New York Times sports columnist Michael Powell notes, last year, the billionaire owners of the NBA’s Cavaliers, Major League Baseball’s Indians and the NFL’s Browns won voter approval for a “sin tax” on beer, liquor and cigarettes to fund $262 million in arena and stadium upgrades over 20 years. And they did so by spending $3 million while sin-tax opponents spent just $30,000.
In contrast, the $37.4 million project adding 3,000 seats and other upgrades at Heinz Field doesn’t involve public money. Not that the Steelers didn’t try. The taxpayer-funded Allegheny Regional Asset District is guaranteeing a $25 million bond. But the Steelers are increasing lease payments to the Sports & Exhibition Authority to pay it off and boost a repair fund. Fans also will kick in through a $1 ticket surcharge under a deal that spares local taxpayers for years to come. Unlike the Cleveland-area sin tax.
And with promises of stadiums and arenas fueling economic booms proving false time after time, taxpayers in Cleveland won’t see their sin-tax money changing their city’s stagnant job growth, reducing its near-37-percent poverty rate or helping its cash-strapped schools, either.