Friday, March 28, 1997
Ticket tax loathsome
but necessary

The Cincinnati Enquirer

When it comes to raising the city's admissions tax to fix our crumbling schools, I'm for it.

Cincinnati Public Schools are falling apart. Chunks of ceilings land on the desks of schoolkids. Bricks tumble from schoolhouse walls. Playgrounds crumble under students' sneakers.

As the schools deteriorate, so does the education of the children who sit and try to learn in decrepit, poorly maintained buildings.

And, as a result, our community is deteriorating, too. Public education, I believe, is for the public good. When it goes bad, everyone suffers.

As loathsome as any new tax may be, I support this one until something better comes along. We owe that to our kids.

What might that something better be? That's our $10-million-a-year question. That's how much money the city and the county have pledged to Cincinnati's school system over 20 years.

It's also a whopping $5 billion-a-year riddle for Ohio. Now that the state Supreme Court has ordered our leaders to find a fair and effective way to pay for Ohio's schools and make sure every child in the state gets a decent education, a new formula will be used to slice that $5 billion-a-year pie.

I don't have an answer for the question or the riddle. If you do, let me know. My phone number is printed below.

So, until something better comes along, I'll take the entertainment tax.

It would raise the admissions tax on tickets to games and concerts from its present level of 3 percent to 8.85 percent by the year 2019. It would also make visiting athletes and performers pay the city's earnings tax.

All of this depends on a change in state law that would let cities give tax money to schools. If the law is changed this year and the proposed ticket tax becomes a reality at the end of April, the city could wind up giving the schools $1 million by the end of 1997.

The timing couldn't be better.

The schools' needs are immediate. And expensive. The system's repair bill was set at $400 million in 1993. Estimates today put it closer to $600 million. We can't afford to wait any longer.

This tax is not an issue that can be debated for the next 10 years. It is not campaign spending reform or the balanced budget amendment.

This is not about some abstract concept. This is about 50,000 kids going to schools that are rundown and unsafe.

Not perfect

I'm for this tax. But that won't stop me from playing the game under protest.

The ticket tax lets too many bunglers and incompetents off the hook. It gives an easy out for the administrators who messed up the schools. It makes politicians - who should have been screaming bloody murder for years about the schools' terrible condition - look like saviors instead of cowards who stood by in silence.

It bothers me that we are making outsiders - even though they are rich jocks and musicians - pay for our mess. We made it. We should pay to clean it up.

In the end, of course, we will. Any cost of doing business for a team owner or a concert promoter is ultimately passed on to us, the consumer.

Any tax that says it's going to fix the schools makes me worry. Ohio's income tax was going to do that. When that fix didn't take, the lottery was going to save our schools. A lot of good that has done.

How many more chances will we get? How much time do we have?

Meanwhile, 50,000 kids go to Cincinnati schools that are in deplorable shape.

Pay up, shut up

Mike Brown has written persuasively on The Enquirer's ''Readers' Views'' page about the ticket tax. If its cost were passed on to the ticket-buying fans of his Bengals, ''it would add more than $30 to the average price of a season ticket.''

That's about $3 a ticket.

That's a small price to pay to fix the clocks so they can tell what time it is at Aiken High School.

That's not too much to ask to repair the holes in the roof that let the rain pour into Hughes' auditorium.

To me, it's worth $3 to keep a little kindergartner at Pleasant Hill Elementary from starting school in a converted storage room.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax 768-8340.