‘Win tax’ on Cleveland teams might be just the ticket for Ohio


By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog

WIN TAX: A sin tax to fund maintenance and improvements at Cleveland sports stadiums could turn into a ‘win tax’ with a portion allocated only if the teams have winning seasons.

Cuyahoga County’s sin tax could become a ‘win tax’ if county executive and gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald has his way.

Thursday, FitzGerald announced he will submit legislation to the county council that would reserve 20 percent of public revenue for stadium maintenance and distribute it between the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Indians, based on their success each year.

At the May primary, county voters extended their “sin tax” on cigarettes, beer, wine and liquor for 20 years to provide roughly $260 million for maintenance and improvements at FirstEnergy Stadium, Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field.

According to his news release, FitzGerald wants to pay the 20 percent as a type of performance bonus to “reward the organizations that commit themselves to giving fans a winning team.” He estimated the amount would be about $2.6 million each year and would go to “justified capital improvements.”

And why not?

Isn’t this the same sort of thing governments do with tax incentives for businesses? Most of the tax breaks for which companies are eligible require that a certain number of people be hired or that a specific number of jobs be created. Government agencies then monitor the progress to ensure the criteria are met, often seeking reimbursement if the company fails to comply.

So why shouldn’t sports teams have the same type of incentive and oversight when they get public dollars for their facilities?

In fact, it’s such a good idea we should apply it more often.

FitzGerald is running for governor. Just think of what he could do with this idea if he won.

He could tell school districts that 20 percent of their state funding allocation will be held back and paid out only if test scores are at or above national averages. Teachers could be included as well, based on how many of their students pass. That’s the equivalent of a winning record, right?

He could tell the Department of Job and Family Services that their funding bonus will be based on how many people they get off welfare — which would be a pleasant change from the federal government, which rewards states for getting more people on the public dole. After all, doesn’t everyone win when people are able to support themselves?

The Department of Transportation could base bonuses on the number of potholes per mile. Every time the state has to pay for a damaged vehicle because of a pothole, subtract money. No potholes? Full funding!

The Department of Budget and Management’s bonus could depend on how much money workers save taxpayers. Just think, they could fund their own percentage bonus that way. Or better yet, the percentage of their bonus could be the same as the percentage of their overall budget cuts.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction could be judged by recidivism. With ‘rehabilitation’ in its name, why shouldn’t bonuses be determined by how many inmates don’t end up back in jail?

And here’s a novel idea: We apply the same approach to the salaries of our elected officials and the myriad staff they oversee. Do they keep their campaign promises? Are more people working? Are average wages rising? Is the tax rate dropping? Are there more businesses in the state?

If yes, then they get their full wages. If not, well…

I think this is just the way to go. And if FitzGerald doesn’t become governor, he can still apply this logic to the Cleveland teams. It’s been half a century since Cleveland saw a championship — such a ‘winner take all’ incentive might be just the trick — since nothing else seems to have worked.