Both sides sound off on stadium ticket tax proposal
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
Workers with the group Class Action Cincinnati have been pulling together volunteers to cover 41 polls Tuesday in an effort to gather more signatures in support of a ticket tax.
"If they're coming back out and they've got that ‘I voted today' sticker on, there's a pretty good guarantee they're a registered Cincinnati voter so we know that signature will be good," explained initiative supporter Todd Portune.
He says the ticket tax would not pay for the stadiums themselves but help defray other related costs he believes Hamilton County tax payers did not sign up for when they voted for the point five percent sales tax increase in 1996.
"They didn't vote back then to give the commissioners a blank check, to give everything away, to accept all expenses, to defray all costs from the professional sports teams," Portune argued. He says the initiative would not necessarily require users to pay the fee if the team ownership took on the expense.
"The ask goes to the owners first," Portune explained. "If they agree to pay for their expenses then there's no extra cost on tickets. That's how this works."
Portune, a Hamilton County Commissioner, says they still need several thousand signatures to reach the 7,468 needed to get it on a ballot. He says even finding the 41 volunteers to man the polls has been tough.
"They're all petitioned out. People kind of have petition fatigue I think," Portune said. "It's been tough to get people to be willing to circulate another petition or be a part of another effort."
He says he is encouraged by a recent poll that showed more than 60 percent of residents supported the initiative.
"It sounds great; it sounds great to the public. The problem is it's not reality," argued Commissioner Greg Hartmann. "It's not provided in the lease. We can't do it."
Hartmann thinks the effort is counterproductive and that it would harm current negotiations with the Reds and Bengals.
"We've done a lot of work to patch up relationships with the teams to get them to be willing to chip in on the capital costs," Hartman said. "That's a big deal at trying to find a solution."
More than that, Hartman believes the effort violates the lease with the Bengals.
"The lease clearly does not allow us to indirectly or directly to oppose an admissions tax," he stated.
"Hamilton County is not directly or indirectly imposing anything," Portune argued. "This is a citizen initiative."
Hartman, however, disagrees.
He is concerned Portune's involvement in the initiative could spur a legal battle.
"This would be a petition being circulated by a county commissioner," Hartmann said. "My legal reading is that we'll lose ultimately and we'll get no concessions from the team."
"[The Bengals] M.O. is to challenge everything, so am I going to be shocked if they challenge this? No," Portune said. "But this is not a county initiated measure. I know that much."
An official recommendation from the county administrator came out Monday on how to deal with the stadium budget shortfall. In it the administrator, Christian Sigman agrees with Hartman stating "… it is unlikely that the proposed ticket surcharge could be implemented."
Portune says they are still looking for volunteers to head to the polls Tuesday. He says interested citizens can sign up at www.classactioncincinnati.com
Portune says they plan to have all the signatures ready for review in early December so they can be placed on the March 2012 primary ballot.