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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Roldo Bartimole

While the waves of myopia, indentured status, titillation and trivia continue to advance on the media, the maverick newsletter by Cleveland’s Roldo Bartimole gives some of us in Washington a respite.

His monthly Point of View (POV) punctures the balloons of the city’s political surrender to corporate fat cats who shake down the Mayor and City Council for huge tax escapes draping their Stadiums, Arenas, Galleries and other baubles built on the backs of tenants, homeowners and small business.

There is nothing new about the rich and their corporations escaping taxation and not paying their fair share of city services. Much of what goes for pockets of gleaming downtowns in America have risen from corporate welfare subsidies. So much so that they ought to have large signs on their buildings that say “Built by the little taxpayers of your community.”

What is new is that someone is fighting back in Cleveland. In his most recent POV issue, Bartimole reports how the Cleveland Teachers Union easily qualified, with 33,000 signatures, a ballot amendment to the City Charter called Issue one. Should the citizens vote Yes on August 5, 1997, both the city and/or the corporate developer that receives property tax abatements will have to reimburse the Cleveland City School District for the portion the schools would have received but for that abatement.

Property taxes support the Cleveland public schools. When buildings are given a free ride for their corporate freeloaders, there is less money for public education and the repairs of crumbling school buildings.

For about a decade, Cleveland’s dominant business clique has promoted slogans like “Renaissance City” or the “New American City” to obscure just who’s paying for what in the new downtown buildings.

Walk down Cleveland’s subsidy lane: heavy tax subsidies support Jacobs (baseball) Field, (named after the welfare recipient himself), the Gund (basketball) Arena, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the forthcoming $250 million NFL football stadium. All these structures are free from property taxes in perpetuity. Which means that the small property taxpayers make up the difference or city services decline or deteriorate.

The teachers’ slogan is “schools not Stadiums” but the business freeloading goes much further. Between 1990 and 1995 National City Bank received $4,491,880 in abated taxes, costing the school system over half of that sum. Ritz Carlton escaped $3,262,160 in property taxes, Tower City $7,920,560 and Key Corp Center $26,370,814 in the same period. The public schools’ share that was lost amounts to a little over 50% of those millions of dollars.

The tragic Roman Circus aspect of all these big time tax escapees is that they are so rich, they can afford to pay their fair share to Cleveland. The problem is that most of these moguls live in the suburbs and so do many of the workers in these gleaming palaces.

The contrast is even more tragic. In March 1996 when the toady politicians gave the tax holiday to the National Football League, the roof of A.J. Rickoff Elementary School collapsed. A middle-school teacher, Michael Charney, said his seventh grade social studies class had 31 children and only 24 desks and only one set of textbooks for the entire class.

The same corporate executives, who insist on a well-educated workforce, demand tax abatements for themselves that undermine resources for the schools. An added irony is that school sports and arts are being dropped while professional sports are being subsidized.

Making cities bid for businesses with an array of subsidies does more than rob these communities of the public resources they need to maintain themselves. It results, says former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, “in zero-sum games in which jobs are simply moved from one place to another, and there is not a net improvement in job growth or in the quality of jobs.”

Besides, when citizens stand up to professional sports team ultimatums, as they did in Columbus, Ohio, and say NO to special tax escapes, the sports company built the arena on its own.

So, let’s see if the voters of Cleveland overcome the media propaganda blitz of its big business freeloaders and change the city charter on August 5th so that any future property tax abatements will not come out of the local school budget. A Yes victory will be a red light against corporate blackmail, inverted priorities and keeping children last.

(Readers interested in Roldo Bartimole’s Point of View may write to P. 0. Box 99530, Cleveland, OH 44199.)