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Monday, April 21, 2014

Senior Pastor at Old Stone Church & Former President of Downtown Cleveland Residents Association: "Vote No on Issue 7 - The Sin Tax"

The below is an opinion piece against Issue 7, the Sin Tax, by R. Mark Giuliano - the senior pastor of the Old Stone Church on Public Square and the former president of the Downtown Cleveland Residents Association...


Great things are happening in Cleveland, there's no doubt about it. As a downtown resident, immediate past president of the Downtown Cleveland Residents Association, and senior pastor of the historic Old Stone Church on Public Square, I have seen, firsthand, the emerging strength of our city core over the last six years, and would be discouraged, to say the least, to see it stop or even slow now. But a new Cleveland needs a new way of doing business and that could very well start by ending the so called “sin tax.”

Do our stadiums bring added economic and social value to downtown Cleveland and the region as a whole? Yes; clearly! The Gateway District alone is booming with new restaurants, pubs and, most importantly, new residents who bring a demand for more housing and retail in downtown such as the new Heinen's 33,000-square-foot grocery store at East Ninth Street and Euclid Avenue. Do the stadiums belong to us and not the teams who play in them? Yes; we are all shareholders. As owners and landlords of these community assets, do we need to provide periodic maintenance and upgrades? Again, yes; if we want pro sports teams and the ability to host major concerts and events, of course we do. But is a sin tax the way to get the job done in the most equitable and helpful way? Probably not.

Growing cities look for smart ways of powering their cultural economic engines. Let our esteemed council people take the lead by exploring more just and contemporary ways of funding our important stadiums and the economic dividend they bring.

Besides, the research shows that sin taxes do not work the way some revenue-hungry benefactors claim they do. In their 2009 article, "Taxing Sin," for the market-oriented research group, the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, Richard Williams and Katelyn Christ debunk the myths surrounding sin taxes: Sin taxes don't discourage unhealthy behaviors such as drinking and smoking (the original argument for sin tax). And more often than not, monies raised are less likely to fund programs that help those with unhealthy behaviors (research, cessation programs, etc.) and more likely to fund stadiums and the arts. Moreover, sin taxes create a codependent relationship, where those funded need those taxed to continue in their unhealthy ways in order to keep the revenue stream flowing.

Of greatest concern to me, and anyone else who cares about what is just, is the fact that a sin tax is a tax where a targeted group of citizens bears the burden of the whole. And sin taxes usually fall, say Williams and Christ, "disproportionately on consumers at the lower end of the income distribution," those least likely, financially speaking, to be able to enjoy the benefits of our pro sporting and entertainment events. A sin tax, in other words, singles out and places an unjust burden on the few, often those with less means, to generate benefits for the many.

The sin tax is an easy but unimaginative and grossly unfair way of generating necessary funds to sustain Cleveland’s amenities. I'm all for taking care of our stadiums and our exceptional arts programs, but why not do it through a fairer and more sophisticated, multilayered approach which spreads out the tax burden of stadium ownership while nudging up rental fees. Or, at the very least, why not extend a small fractional sales tax levied on all citizens? After all, if we all benefit, and I think we do, then we should all contribute. Let’s love the sin and hate the tax!

R. Mark Giuliano is the senior pastor of the Old Stone Church on Public Square and the former president of the Downtown Cleveland Residents Association.

Vote No on Issue 7
Stop the Sin Tax!

1 comment:

  1. This issue is the absurdity of absurdities. Let me get this straight: the purpose of the Sin Tax is to gouge those who purchase alcohol and cigarettes not because anyone is trying to discourage consumption but rather so the County can use that money to pay for sports stadiums that do not produce anything but a fleeting moment witnessing the passing of a football, the dribbling of a basketball and the throwing of a baseball so that such a minute tidbit of diversion can be enjoyed by all. The stupidity of this proposition is enough to make your head spin even though the spin doctors advocating passage of this nonsense are already doing a pretty good job of hypnotizing the voters to actually consider supporting it. At least the Robber Barons of the previous centuries provided something tangible such as oil, steel, railroads etcetera. These team owners do not even provide one tangible thing that could ever be considered with the term “value added.” Almost everyone discusses this “enterprise” as though it is the same thing as industry {which it is not}. The price of admission is essentially a voluntary tax paid by those who can afford it to pay those who don’t need it. If this isn’t a transfer of wealth I don’t know what is.

    The real outrage here is the fact that taxes on alcohol and cigarettes will not be used to aid in the reduction of addiction {hence the reference to “sin”} but rather to stuff the pockets of all three teams who could easily afford to pay for the repairs themselves. The vote was rammed through the last time {under somewhat suspicious circumstances} and hear we go again. But this time...not so fast!!! We the voters of Cuyahoga County are going to fight the proponents on this one and we don't care if the teams up and go somewhere else {please see my views on entertainment below} because quite frankly there are simply more important things than sports and the unearned money that comes with it. Those in public office who are too stupid and lazy to find other ways to grow a major American city need to resign and leave their self-seeking political ambitions on the scrapheap of history. Don’t ever let it be said that this was time when the tide ran out on Cuyahoga County but rather was the time when the voters rose up to welcome the rising tide of change and rebuked this pathetic paradigm our previous elected leaders embraced. Let the battle be joined.

    And now to the real underlying issue at hand:

    One of the most disturbing facts about our capitalist nation is the misappropriation of funds directed to the salaries of entertainers. Everyone should agree that the value an athlete, movie star, talk-show host, team-owner, etcetera brings to the average citizen is very small. Granted, they do offer a minuscule of diversion from our daily trials and tribulations as did the jesters in the king's court during the middle ages. But to allow these entertainers to horde such great amounts of wealth at the expense of more benevolent societal programs is unacceptable. They do not provide a product or a service so why are they rewarded as such?

    Our society is also subjected to the "profound wisdom" of these people because it equates wealth with influence. Perhaps a solution to this problem and a alternative to defeated school levies, crumbling infrastructures, as well as all the programs established to help feed, clothe and shelter those who cannot help themselves would be to tax this undeserved wealth. Entertainers could keep 1% of the gross earnings reaped from their endeavor and 99% could be deposited into the public coffers.

    The old ideas of the redistribution of wealth have failed, and it is time to adapt to modern-day preferences. People put their money into entertainment above everything else; isn't it time to tap that wealth? Does anyone think this will reduce the quality of entertainment? It seems to me that when entertainers received less income, the quality was much higher.


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