COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The owners of the money-losing Columbus Blue Jackets want a tax increase on beer, wine and cigarettes to underwrite a county takeover of the arena where they play, defying the will of local voters who repeatedly rejected public financing of the center.
The prospect of significant tax hikes to benefit Nationwide Arena has touched off a battle between financial backers of the Blue Jackets' arena complex and Anheuser-Busch, which operates one of its 12 U.S. breweries in the city.
President David Peacock flew to Columbus on Thursday for meetings with Gov. Ted Strickland and leaders of the Ohio Legislature, where the tax proposal surfaced in recent days.
The St. Louis-based company, which merged last year with Belgian company InBev, employs about 1,000 people in central Ohio and has invested about $1.1 billion in its local brewing and canning operations.
The tax plan calls for raising alcohol and beer excise taxes in Franklin County by 25 cents per gallon of beer, 32 cents per gallon of wine, $3 per gallon of spirits, and 4.5 cents per pack of cigarettes. The increases would raise an estimated $65 million a year, which would help offset team losses and help the county pay for a bond sale to buy the arena.
The added tax would more than double the current 18-cent state excise tax on beer within the county.
The proposal comes as local support for the Blue Jackets is high.
The franchise, in its eighth season, is coming off its best season ever, qualifying for the first time for the NHL Western Conference playoffs.
Crowds for the season were high, though the team was swept by defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the best-of-seven playoffs.
The team was founded in 2000 with the help of significant private funding — much of it from the late John H. McConnell of steel finishing company Worthington Industries. McConnell died a year ago, leaving his son John P. McConnell at the helm of the business.
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report.