Cleveland needs leaders with a moral compass
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2021) As Clevelanders prepare to select a new mayor and consider their choices for city council representatives for the next four years, we may be asking ourselves how do we best judge who will make a good mayor or city council representative? What qualities would we like to see in our leaders? One suggestion comes to mind, our leaders should have a moral compass. They should be able to make decisions based on what is right or wrong, and know the difference.
Such moral decision making has been sadly lacking in Cleveland for decades. One measure comes to mind, Cleveland’s high child poverty rate. For a number of years now, Cleveland has had the highest poverty rate for families with children of any big city in the United States of America.
Not only have Cleveland’s leaders have done little to address childhood poverty, but they have actively taken measures that deprive generations of Cleveland’s children of the resources they need to have the best chance to fulfill their hopes and dreams for their future.
Examples abound of decisions by Cleveland leaders that have shifted resources that should have gone to our children and instead ended up going for other purposes.
For years, Cleveland’s veteran journalist Roldo Bartimole has critiqued Cleveland’s governmental leadership and the hundreds of millions of public dollars they have given to support projects of billionaire owners of Cleveland’s sport’s teams. Bartimole has put the data out there repeatedly for Cleveland’s leaders to see.
Bartimole also notes how, when promoting the public subsidy of the stadiums and arena, voters were promised the new facilities would pay property tax that would benefit the Cleveland schools. Instead, local politicians, on behalf of the billionaire team owners, lobbied the State of Ohio Legislature to exempt the large sports facilities from paying property tax. Here’s how Roldo Bartimole described this deception in a July 14th article titled “Will PD, CH3, CH5, CH 8, CH 19 or Crain’s tell you the real score? Not a chance.”
In the article Roldo notes that the property tax exemption resulted in the Cleveland schools being deprived of their share of property tax from these large facilities. On a yearly basis, Roldo notes the property tax exemption results in the Cleveland schools losing $5.76 million a year on taxes that would have been paid by the owners of the Browns; $3.72 million a year that would have gone to the Cleveland schools annually from Progressive Field’s property taxes; and $2.4 million that would have gone to the Cleveland schools from Quicken Loans Arena’s property taxes.
Roldo notes that those benefitting from the property tax breaks and the hundreds of millions of dollars of public subsidies for building the sports facilities are all billionaires. Roldo says the latest figures show the wealth of the Cleveland baseball team owners the Dolan family at $5.5 billion; the wealth of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert at $51.9 billion; and the wealth of the Haslams, Browns’ owners, at $6 billion.
How would you describe political leaders who advocate for taking money that should go to support the education of Cleveland children living in poverty and giving it to billionaires? This is just one example of the moral bankruptcy of Cleveland’s leadership that helps to perpetuate the cycle of poverty for generations of Clevelanders.
Another example has to do with a promise made after the Browns’ stadium received its tax exemption. In 1995 City of Cleveland passed several taxes– an admissions tax for entertainment venues, a car rental tax, and an 8% downtown parking tax. The taxes were to help pay for repairs to the Browns stadium, and for general city revenue. In an effort to pass the tax, Clevelanders were also promised that $2 million a year of the revenue generated by the new taxes would to go to after school programs for Cleveland school students.
In the first years of the taxes, the afterschool programs in Cleveland received $2 million a year. Then the amount was quietly reduced to $1 million a year in 2009. When Cleveland school activist and retired teacher Gene Tracy discovered this change in the amount the afterschool programs would receive, he regularly called upon the Cleveland Board of Education, the mayor and city council members to restore the funds. His pleas have been ignored for over a decade. This year Cleveland City Council legislation allocated only $950,000 to the afterschool programs. Another promise broken to Cleveland voters concerning funds to the Cleveland schools.
Then of course there is the residential tax abatement program in Cleveland which automatically grants a 15-year tax abatement to all new housing or the cost of substantially rehabbing existing houses in Cleveland. Cleveland Metropolitan School District budget projections estimate these abatements amount to about $70 million per year. There has been discussion in Cleveland City Council about eliminating tax abatement in neighborhoods with hot real estate markets. It will be up to the next Cleveland City Council to make those decisions. While Cleveland City Council may have had its reasons to offer tax abatement as an incentive to attract new residents and gain their payroll tax revenue, there is no excuse for not compensating the Cleveland Metropolitan School District for the property tax revenue it was deprived of for so many years. If the city’s policy was working, increased payroll tax revenue should have been used to compensate the Cleveland schools for what they should have received in property taxes from the new residents. This payment should have been made before any use of the money by the City of Cleveland.
Let us elect Cleveland leaders who have a moral compass. Leaders who will address the needs of children and families living in poverty. Leaders who will make sure Cleveland no longer leads the nation, year after year, with the highest poverty rate in the nation for families with children. Let us not let another generation of children go through our public schools deprived of all the local public resources we should be providing them.