August 13th, 2015

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A sales tax goes out of business.

Don’t clap.

Another one—of the same shade—goes into effect. August 1.

July 2015 ended the 15-year sin tax we suckers voted for a decade-and-a-half ago. And the total take for the sin tax as of the end of last month was $135,421,613. Cash received.

That’s a lot of money for the pockets of Dan Gilbert, Jimmy Haslam and Larry Dolan, our sports owner welfare clients. They take it with a smile.

The information sheet sent by the County notes that the “account balance is $22,912,487. Wonder how they’re going to spend what’s left over?

The Plain Dealer, our main source of public information, doesn’t pound these figures home. Oh, they’ll tell you, as Mark Naymik did recently, that there’s a problem but it’s stated in a rather meaningless way. The TV stations are not much more than team cheerleaders. Empty news calories; Jim Donovan cheerleaders.

So we continue the charade.

August 1 started the new 20-year sin tax. The old tax, ended in July, collected from Cuyahoga taxpayers at $135-million. The first sin tax in 1990 collected $240 million, making the total take $375 million. That’s not peanuts from a regressive tax that weighs most heavily upon poor and working people. Other subsides are in the $100 million plus to say nothing of free property taxes all these years on all three sports facilities.

These team owners make robber barons of the past blush. Meanwhile, some Cleveland and county residents suffer crime sprees amid deep poverty and despair. Who cares about them?

A County document shows $22.9 million remains as an “account balance” of the recent sin tax. However, no one knows what will be done with this money. Further, neither city nor county officials know how the revenue of the new 20-year sin tax, started this month, will be spent. I’m told city, county and Gateway officials have yet to determine how the money will be spent. Not that you’ll get a vote. It’s done privately.


Let’s raise a drink. Take a smoke. Pay the taxes.

We’re still feeding the sports billionaires. We make their wallets fatter than ever.

And a lot more is coming their way.

Earlier this year Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy “Cheats” Haslam laughably said this:

We are dedicated to creating the best experience in the NFL, both on the field and through every connection we have with our deserving fans and the City of Cleveland. Many of the improvements in Phase 2 modernization are a direct result of continuing to listen to our fans and creating a more enjoyable and memorable environment through FirstEnergy Stadium.

He exuded further: “… the modernization will revitalize the look and feel of the stadium’s external and internal features, creating a vibrant environment that highlights Cleveland and Browns’ illustrious history.”

Wonder what PR firm wrote that bullshit for Jimmy.

Does it mean the Browns will be a winning team? Does it mean a Super Bowl?

Isn’t that what the “deserving fans” REALLY want?

No, it means screwing the city of Cleveland, the school children of Cleveland and the taxpayers of Cuyahoga County. Again.

All thanks to Mayor Frank Jackson, City Council President Kevin Kelley, County Executive Armond Budish and County Council President Dan Brady – and their subservient colleagues.

None scream, “Robbery in progress.”

The improvements at the three big league facilities represent one of the biggest scams worked on taxpayers. The teams decide what new luxuries they want in their facilities. The taxpayers pick up the bill.

They spend like drunks.

It’s as if you as a homeowner decided on a new fancy kitchen with all appliances, new bathrooms with the best of fixtures, a new landscaped lawn—front and back—and sent the bill to city hall and demanded no property taxes. How far would you get?

Essentially, team owners have total freedom to spend. They pay little rent and enjoy most of the profits from the restaurants, scoreboards and other advertising and ALL the substantial TV revenues.

This is not subsidy. This is straight robbery. With every politician in town an accomplice.

How’d you like to pay $15,788,116 to “replace scoreboards and ribbon boards for Mr. Haslam?

While billionaire Haslam collects every advertising dollar from those new scoreboards.

And the PD reports that Larry Dolan and the Indians want similarly a $16-million new scoreboard. He’ll take the revenue from the improvements, too.

These are not CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS. They are simply huge revenue source the teams should be paying for themselves.

You—suckers—pay the price. One hundred percent.

A document, among 450 pages sent to me by the city of Cleveland via my freedom of information request, notes:


Phase 3 Budgets:

  • Replace Scoreboards & Ribbon Boards: $15,788,116.
  • Lower bowl renovations and increased capacity: $7,075,678.
  • End zone (where the Browns don’t tread) renovations: $29,197,368.
  • I don’t want to bore you.

    The whole project sheet of wants adds up to $134-million.

    And the Browns and Haslam produce nothing! Nothing you can eat. Nothing you can wear. Nothing you can drive. Nothing you can squeeze. Nothing you can wash. Nothing you can dry. Nothing. Absolutely NOTHING. Except maybe defeats.

    But the saps (you and me) pay even if we cannot see a win.

    I shouldn’t say anything you can eat. Because of your generosity to billionaire Haslam you can buy some food.

    During Phase 11, the Browns will increase the availability of Cleveland chef partner options and general concessions, focusing on Cleveland tastes (whatever they are), for all fans. Renovated dining locations and upgraded food and beverage amenities will be incorporate, including new concepts and offerings, in addition to modernized facades, signage, menu boards and way-finding throughout the stadium. All 35 permanent concession stands will be remodeled.

    How are these capital improvements to the city’s stadium? What deterioration to the facility do they correct?

    Whooo! Aren’t you excited! And you voted to pay for it all with the help of Mayor Jackson and City Council.

    And the stadium free restaurants compete with restaurants that have to finance themselves and pay property taxes.
    The stadium restaurants have no such burdens.

    The lease that favors Brown owners and shafts Cleveland citizens was signed by Fred Nance, who once represented the city and then went to work for – you guessed it – the Cleveland Browns. Nance is, of course, on the executive committee of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and a managing partner regionally of Squire Patton Boggs, once known as Squire-Sanders. It has been the rip-off law firm of the city of Cleveland for decades. The deceiving lease was, of course, prepared by Squire Sanders.

    Similarly, Diane Downing, who helped guide the construction of the stadium for Mayor White, later went to work for—you guessed it—the Cleveland Browns. Downing worked for Mayor George Voinovich and Mayor Michael White, two mayors who gave away as much of the city’s resources as they could. Downing wrote to Ken Silliman, Mayor Jackson’s chief of staff, “Thank you for your continuing help on this project (stadium).” It just keeps happening.

    Gateway is headed by Tim Offtermatt, managing director 1 of Stiefel, a public investment firm. He was instrumental in the early Gateway bond borrowing we are still paying for. Yet, he heads the non-profit that will eat up much of the revenue from the new 20-year sin tax. The Gateway board is a joke.

    The potential conflicts are fever-high here. Where are the cops, the FBI?

    So thank you all Cleveland and Cuyahoga County public officials.

    And dumb Jimmy Dimora goes to jail for 28 years as a corrupt public official.

    Such a civic Merry-go-round! In Cleveland it never stops.

    The Browns arranged to spend $120 million in “repairs and improvements to the Stadium.” In exchange, the city promised to pay $2 million a year for 15 years ($30 million) and “on or before Jan. 2, 2016, the city shall deposit $12 million in the Capital Repair Fund.” Further, looking ahead, the Browns arranged with the city that any increase in the admission tax (paid by fans) would go into the capital repair fund, not the city coffers.

    Money that should be used for all the REAL needs of a poverty city.

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    *What does the city have left?

    The city hardly will be able to pay the amounts from 2021 through 2025 from general funds, to say nothing of the previous lesser sums.

    Where does the rest come from? One has to assume the sin taxes, if there’s anything left over after the team’s greedy desire for “capital improvements” now.

    Or maybe new bonds as those still being paid for Gateway overruns – now more than $100 million and years to go.

    Maybe we’ll have to pass another extended sin tax in 2025 even though the new sin tax won’t be finished by then.

    You can see how our public leaders—past, present and future—will screw us. Spending us to the poor house. You can bet on it. What sucker would take that bet?

    By Roldo Bartimole…

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