SERIOUS PD? & A SALES TAX VACATION

Just how often do you get really angry with the Plain Dealer?

I guess I’ve made an obsession with it over the years.

Last Sunday provided another example of why.

I’m talking about the sports section of the Sunday PD.

Twenty page of sports in a town that so badly needs space for real news coverage. This is a town that gravely needs serious examination of its problems. Not just its hyped progress.

We ignore what’s happening in St. Louis to our peril.

This wasted space from a newspaper cutting, slicing, dumping news gatherers. It seems odd that it can afford to give away so much space to sports.

The 20 pages represent 2,400 inches of space. Space that, in my opinion, didn’t go to real news – information of importance to a supposed democratic public. What’s most disturbing is that the 20 pages had only 109 inches of advertising! That’s .09 percent of the content as paid advertising. A major give-away of resources. The only sports ad was a single 10-inch, 3-column ad from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

A newspaper dumping editorial content gives away space using scarce personnel to do it.

We, the public, have to pay for this free advertising for sports moguls.

At the cost of real news that has value to community.

Newspapers have made Sports the new opiate of the masses, taking the public’s mind from what’s important to community.

One looks at the newest poverty rates in Cleveland and they should shout for a 20 page review, a team of reporters scurrying to find out who the suffering people are, what they’re problems are, what are the possibilities to improve conditions.

However, since the publication in the PD of the fact that 36.9 percent of Clevelanders are impoverished and 54 percent of our children are impoverished, I’ve seen little if any attention to such serious problems.

I note a recent easy hit – the kind countenanced by editorial boss Chris Quinn – reported that some actress – who happened to be in a mental institution apparently – made a provocative Tweet on Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s site.

Big story, an embarrassing, “Fitzgerald’s rough night on Twitter, quoting an actress who apparently has mental problems: -(http://www.cleveland.com/open/index.ssf/2014/10/ed_fitzgerald’s_rough_night_on.html) For a time, the PD removed the comment but I notice it’s back on today.

Easy shots appear these days to be the core of its reporting.

I once wrote that “Journalism doesn’t have a very fertile setting in Cleveland, a city incestuous in its civic and business interlocking.”

So it’s easier to write about sports than poverty. Easier to go to a ballgame than investigate a ghetto.

I will say that once the PD did pay some attention to poverty and such problems. When I came here in 1967 to work at the paper it was beginning to penetrate the minds of editors that something was happening. Something they had not had to think about.

The issue was civil rights and demands from blacks that poverty and racial discrimination be addressed.

That meant that a new hire with some experience in urban reporting got assigned to pertinent stories. They were played as full page piece entitled, “The Changing City,” and dealt with issues of poverty.

However, it wasn’t clear that this new journalistic awakening fully pierced the mindset of that era’s editors either. Because later an order came down from Publisher/Editor Tom Vail that every beat reporter would write a piece about “What’s Right with Cleveland.” That’s Steve Litt’s beat now.

I, at that point, was the welfare beat reporter. There was nothing right about the people I was writing about. This boosterism push produced 34 articles, absent any from me, which was then published into a promotional booklet. As if that would solve problems, even of image.

It’s reminiscent of the paper’s thrust these days to accent the positive and ignore the negative. Ignore those suffering poverty, play up those enjoying themselves at new restaurants and beer joints here.

Especially ignoring child poverty. What good will new schools do for those so damaged even before they taste an education?

The negative doesn’t go away. Cleveland learned that later with urban riots. St. Louis is learning that now with today’s response to the absence of concern. Neglect is evident here too on the part of city’s leaders and editors. And let’s be honest, most of its black leaders, equally absent without concern these days.

It’s time the PD took seriously its responsibility to probe those issues of poverty that still plague Cleveland and it environs.

* * *

TAX BREAKS FOR THE LOWER ECONOMIC PEOPLE

If I were a politician today there are two things I would promote in Cleveland and Ohio.

First, a state-wide raise in the minimum wage. If not, a push for city-wide minimum wage hikes. Where are Cleveland politicians?

Second, I’d call for a temporary vacation or permanent decrease in the state’s sales tax. If there is money for cuts in income taxes, which benefit higher income people, there should be state resources to benefit low income people.

And the sales tax is the tax that fits the need.

It would be a way to take a poke at income inequality.

Thirteen states and 10 county & cities have raised the minimum wage – including Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, Vermont, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond and Washington, D. C., according to news reports.

At a minimum and as a test, a decrease in the sales tax should be acceptable to Gov. John Kasich for the holiday season – say as a trial for November, December and January for the holidays and after-holiday sales.

An annual take for the State of Ohio in sales tax revenue would be slightly more than $9 billion, according to an expert who watches sales taxes. That’s quite a take from a heavily regressive tax.

It would be nice if the lower end of the economic ladder got some relief from such a regressive tax.

Let’s say no sales tax on items below $10,000, which would cut off a break for the guy buying a BMW.

What could that mean for the average guy if the no sales tax holiday went for November, December, and January – the big buying season?

It would mean – based on the annual $9 billion take – some $2.25 billion in the pockets of consumers. And likely more since the holiday spending is higher. That could have meaning to lower income people.

It’s a tax break worth considering.

Now the tax breaks seem to flow fast to the richest – not only the Kasich income tax but all kinds of other breaks. (And more will be coming when he’s re-elected.)

Recently, I got figures from Cuyahoga County showing $772,339,500 in tax abated property. That’s this county alone. Three quarters of a billion dollars.

Those are tax breaks for developers and their clients. Further, the tax revenue has to be made up somehow. So other property owners have to ante up the difference since cities and schools still need revenue – and more each year.

And there are more freebies.

The County Auditor’s department also provided figures for another form of abatement, called Tax Incremental Financing (TIF). TIF properties total $1.1 billion, though there are not figures on how much of the property tax is diverted because each property under TIF is different and tax relief only partial. But the revenue on a TIF usually goes for infrastructure costs the developer doesn’t have to incur. Again other tax payers have to make up the difference of lost revenue.

Then I figured with the help of the County Auditor’s department the tax exempted (never to pay property taxes) at our sports facilities.

Here’s how that calculated:

At Gateway, Dan Gilbert and Larry Dolan escape paying property taxes on the $176,250,000 baseball stadium and basketball arena. Every single year that you pay property taxes, they don’t. (Gateway does pay on the land.) The tax bill on the $276 million (35% of value is taxed) would be for 2013, $6,114,883 (In 10 years, more than $60 million in lost revenue). The portion NOT paid to the Cleveland schools is $3,708,937 (or $37 million lost revenue in 10 years unless taxes rise) according to a Cuyahoga County finance official. (Add to this its $240 million subsidy paid for sports via the sin tax and the more than $110 million paid by the County and City on Gateway bonds for arena overruns with the meter still running). It’s a lot of money. Further, the newly passed sin tax should bring in another $260 million from Cuyahoga citizens.

Cleveland Browns billionaire Jimmy Haslam escapes paying property taxes on a facility worth $276,200,000. (He also pays not a penny on the $19,007,400 on the land value, as the City of Cleveland citizens pick up that tab for him.) The tax bill on the $276 million facility should bring taxes of $9,581,332 each year, according to the County official, with $5,812,246 of that lost by the Cleveland schools. In a decade, this adds up to more than $95 million in lost revenue and $58 million of it from Cleveland school children in a decade. Haslam pays much less than Art Modell paid on the old stadium.

So let’s give the working stiff a sales tax break. That’ll be a real change in lowering taxes in Ohio.

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