Tube City Almanac

December 05, 2007

Clink, Clink, Another Tax

Category: General Nonsense, Politics || By

Prohibition ended 74 years ago today with the ratification of the 21st Amendment. I'll drink to that!

Come to think of it, I need a drink. The debate over the county's new drink tax almost drove me over the edge.

Now, I'm not in favor of new taxes. (I don't even like the old ones.) But as taxes go, a levy on mixed drinks in taverns and bars seems about as painless as possible to most people.

. . .

I have sympathy for bartenders, waitresses and small-business owners who will now need to keep track of taxes and submit a bunch of extra paperwork. But I have no sympathy for the dire predictions made by the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and the local group calling itself "Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation."

The idea that residents of Allegheny County will go to Westmoreland or Washington to drink, or that they won't drink as much, is ridiculous, bordering on "offensively stupid."

I can just see college kids in Oakland, considering their options:

"Dude, let's do a pub crawl!"

"Not in Oakland, dude! There's a 10 percent tax!"

"Oh, man! Let's drive to Murrysville instead!"

I'm no hard-core drinker. But I've never comparison-shopped for bars to save money. And I doubt anyone who's a really serious imbiber is going to worry about paying an extra 10 cents to sit at their favorite tavern.

. . .

After all, Prohibition couldn't stop people from drinking. In fact, it was so easy to get a drink in McKeesport throughout the 1920s that the U.S. Attorney's Office indicted the police chief and several officers for taking payoffs from bootleggers. (The police chief skipped town. You can, as they say, look it up.)

If the Volstead Act didn't put the Mon-Yough area on the wagon, paying an extra dime for a shot of Imperial isn't going to do it, either.

I have more sympathy for taverns fighting the proposed statewide smoking ban, and for the same reasons. If you don't like to breathe smoke, don't work in a bar, or patronize a bar. Like the drink tax, cigarette smoke in bars is easy to avoid: Don't go to a bar if you don't like smoke.

. . .

Keep in mind that the drink tax is designed to prevent a countywide property tax increase. If you own a bar or restaurant, would you rather your customers pay an extra 10 or 20 cents?

Or would you rather see your property tax (on your home and your business) jump a couple of hundred dollars?

One has an indirect, difficult-to-measure impact on your income; the other has a very distinct and direct impact.

According to the Post-Gazette, the Restaurant Association is considering litigation against the county over the drink tax.

According to the association's website, membership costs $200 and up. They also charge additional fees for any services you use.

If you're a member, maybe you ought to question whether the Restaurant Association represents your interests, and ask them if they're spending your hard-earned money wisely.

Your Comments are Welcome!

I’m inclined to agree with you, but it is a tough call. In theory, a service that benefits a broad swath of the population should be paid for by a broad swath of the population. Public transit benefits all of us, because, even if you don’t use it, it reduces congestion, making your own commute and quality of life better. So in that sense, a property tax increase is the fairest answer.

But the county already has steep property taxes. And alcohol is not a necessity — no one has to drink, so you are essentially taxing a leisure activity. I also agree that the economic impact has been greatly exaggerated.

I wonder how much revenue the base-year assessment system is costing the county. I think under the law municipal governments are allowed up to a 5 percent increase in tax receipts as a result of reassessments. That is revenue that we will not see as long as the base-year system prevails.
Jonathan Potts (URL) - December 06, 2007

Here’s a question related to the subject of taxes and property tax relief. When are the average, tax-paying citizens of this state going to see any meaninful property tax relief as a result of the over 1 BILLION dollars the state has collected from gambling revenue?

Okay, I realize that it’s somewhat of a rhetorical question because there doesn’t seem to be an answer. What kind of concerns me is that nobody (among our local media outlets) seems interested in asking the question or in pestering Harrisburg for an answer.

I know the whole sordid history of the failed ballot initiatives that were supposed to address the issue, but since they failed over a year ago, it doesn’t seem that anyone cares to discuss it. Meanwhile, millions and millions of dollars are rolling into the state’s coffers (acutal numbers are available on the State Gaming Board’s website) while only the poorest of the state’s property owners even qualify for a meager rebate.

Just asking a question. Does anyone else know of ANY discussions that are even taking place on the subject?
Bulldog - December 07, 2007

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