Repeal of Lebron James’ Stadium Ticket Tax Heads to Vote

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By Alex Ebert

A citywide Cleveland vote will decide whether to a repeal a ticket tax and possibly scuttle a $140 million renovation to the Cleveland Cavaliers stadium.

But questions of when the vote will happen, and how much it could cost taxpayers, are still up in the air.

Earlier this week, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections certified that protesters against public funding of the stadium renovation submitted more than double the necessary signatures to push repeal of the $45 million ticket tax to the city voters by referendum. Cleveland City Clerk Patricia Britt, after an Ohio Supreme Court order issued two weeks ago, will certify the sufficiency of the 13,072 signatures to the city council at its next regular meeting Sept. 18.

However, due to timing and issues with the city charter, it’s unclear when a vote would occur or how much it could cost taxpayers. Under the charter, the Sept. 18 meeting is too late to place the issue on the November ballot, and a special election appears necessary.

Signs Point to Special Election

If the city doesn’t find a way to address the certification earlier, it might have to reimburse the county more than $700,000 for the cost of a special election held sometime after the Nov. 7 election.

Four city councilmembers wrote to city council President Kevin Kelley asking to reschedule their meeting on or before Sept. 6 in order to save these costs and get the issue on the ballot.

“By doing so, the Democratic process is respected, and the citizen’s right to vote is upheld,” Councilmembers Zachary Reed, Michael Polensek, Jeffrey Johnson, and Kevin Conwell wrote. “At this point, it is no longer whether you are ‘for’ or ‘against’ the Quicken Loans referendum; it is about justice and basic voting rights.”

Unclear Outcome, Revenue Loss

It’s unclear whether moving up the certification would create more legal programs for the city. The charter requires the certification occur at a “regularly scheduled meeting,” and moving the meeting up for this certification might create another legal challenge to the procedure and keep the referendum off the Nov. 7 ballot.

It’s also unclear what the city will do to fill the hole left by the ticket tax in its general fund revenue. Part of the ordinance’s popularity was that the portion of the ticket tax that went to fill city revenue matched the portion that went to service debt on the stadium. Repeal of the ticket tax means the city will lose out on $45 million.

The petitioners’ lawyer, Subodh Chandra, the founding and managing partner of The Chandra Law Firm LLC, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. However, he has told Bloomberg BNA in the past that he favors moving up the city’s meeting in order to place the referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The city responded to requests for comment by providing the breakdown of the signatures and providing the pertinent provisions of its charter. Councilmembers involved with meeting scheduling were unavailable for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jennifer McLoughlin at jmcloughlin@bna.com

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