Ed FitzGerald Proposes 'Win Tax' to Increase Funding for Pro Cleveland Sports

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJune 5, 2014

A workman leaves the job site at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland where renovation of the 15-year-old home of the Cleveland Browns continues Thursday, June 5, 2014. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald has suggested divvying up maintenance money from the county's
Mark Duncan/Associated Press

The city of Cleveland is resorting to unique political means in an effort to expedite the process of ending a 50-year championship drought in major professional sports.

According to a Thursday report by Cleveland.com's Andrew J. Tobias, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald has proposed a provision that will set aside 20 percent of a countywide tax on alcohol and cigarettes. That money will be used to maintain Cleveland's sports stadiums, and how well the franchises fare will have an impact on how much funding they receive.

FitzGerald confirmed the news on Twitter:

A "fan advisory council" has also been proposed to determine how to distribute the spoils. Tobias estimates that 20 percent of the so-called "sin tax" will total $2.6 million per year.

FitzGerald shared his thoughts on the matter, per the Cleveland.com report:

This is at least a small step, and I think it's a real step, to say ... we love these teams, we're loyal to these teams and we're committed to maintaining these facilities. But we can also try to demand to get something a little bit better than we've gotten over the past 50 years.

[...] I can't say I've talked to all public officials on this. I think some will be supportive and others will not be. I think there will be differing opinions on this.

The Associated Press' Tom Withers provided further information:

Cleveland.com's Henry J. Gomez recorded the response county Republican Party chairman Rob Frost had:

Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green provided his take on the situation:

A coalition formed within Cuyahoga County to vote "No" on Issue 7, which proposed to extend the sin tax for an additional 20 years. That cause was for naught, as Issue 7 passed in early May with a 56 percent majority vote (h/t Andrew J. Tobias, Cleveland.com).

If there wasn't enough incentive for athletes to deliver for this glory-starved city, FitzGerald's interesting spin that he dubs the "win tax" should drive them to succeed even more.

Since the sin tax encompasses cigarette and alcohol sales, which can be costly to consumers' health if bought with too much frequency, the hope is that Cleveland's residents don't invest too much in those vices. It's also unclear just how much of an impact those additional funds would have, considering the city has the NBA's Cavaliers, the Indians in the MLB and, most prominently, the NFL's Browns.

Considering how divided Cleveland was on the sin tax extension to begin with, there may be difficulty in selling the idea, pushing it through the state's legislative authorities and into law. Given the relative incompetence of all three major sports teams in recent years, this should continue to be a hot-button issue.

If all teams fail, it will be difficult to figure out which stadium to award the money to.

The Cavaliers may be on the rise with the No. 1 overall draft pick for the third time in four years, while the Browns are coming off an exciting draft that featured the selection of quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Indians needed a six-game winning streak to get to .500 at 30-30 entering Friday's action. However, the Tribe are coming off of a Wild Card playoff appearance last season.

So, while sports are trending upward in the city, FitzGerald's "win tax" creates an interesting dynamic that may nurture better pro sports performance but could also create confusion in the government treasury.