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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dump the Pittsburgh Drink Tax!

Do you remember when I urged Pennsylvanians to contact your state legislators to stop the "poured drink tax" in Pittsburgh? Do you remember how some of the liars on the Allegheny County Council said it was "just an enabling bill," and there might not even be a drink tax, so why be against it?

Yeah. Well, they got their 10% "poured drink tax," which was immediately interpreted to include take-out six-packs bought at taverns (I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you). But surprise, surprise, the tax has turned out to be pretty damned unpopular, and opposition is not only increasing, but it looks like there might be a serious shot at repealing the tax.

The group that is coordinating the efforts, FACT (Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation), needs money to keep pushing the fight. They're having a fund-raiser at the Church Brew Works on February 11th, 5:30 to 9:30. Tickets are $40 (available at the FACT website and the Penn Brewery website), which gets you fresh craft beers from the Church, Penn, East End, and the Rivertown Pour House, and -- big guys hate taxes, too -- Blue Moon; you'll also get savory food provided by the city’s best chefs, and local entertainment playing original music, including the "NoDrinkTax Jig" by Terry Griffith. There's also a silent auction of gift baskets planned. Wow...sounds just like the fundraisers at my church, except the beer's better!

I do not know the people in FACT, but if the people at those four breweries are supporting it, that's good enough for me. Besides...$40 for a mini-fest with food and music at the Church, and a chance to shake your fist and thumb your nose at County Council? How can you lose?!


Anonymous said...

We've been advocating to stop the drink tax on our podcast since word first came out. What's upsetting many people is that word has the tax going to a general fund instead of the advertised help for the Port Authority.

This drink tax is not only pissing off residents but kicking the brewers while they're down from the hops shortage. Political and media reps for the tax say "so what if you pay an extra $3?" but what they don't realize is that adds up pretty quick. We're working on a counter to show how much it's cost us so far.

Terry Griffith was nice enough to let us play his song at the beginning of EP 31 to help us spread awareness.


Lew Bryson said...


From what I've read in press coverage, it sounds like the whole tax project has been poorly planned: no infrastructure in place to properly collect and account for the monies, no real handle on how much that collection and accounting would cost, and as you said, no clear path for the monies to flow to what was their advertised purpose.

In short, you guys were had, and you oughta vote out any Council member who supported this, and find Dan Onorato a new job; maybe shoveling spent grain at Iron City.

Anonymous said...

Lew, this is a sign that's appearing all over bars in Allegheny County.
Don't Serve Them

This is a VERY democratic city and for the most part Dan ran unopposed. Rumor has it he's going to run for governor next.

The thing that angered many was that he slid this under the radar without public meetings, voted and passed then gave 30 days to enforce.

First he tries to screw Pens fans with the slots/arena mess and now this. Trust me, there are A LOT of pissed off people.

Lew Bryson said...

Oh, spoon, heard about the Don't Serve Them signs, that is so brutally brilliant. You're so right, this one got slipped by you, was misrepresented, and moved way too fast for such a targeted tax. If a government program supposedly benefits everyone, then everyone should help pay for it.

Anonymous said...

Lew, double-check the date. The 11th isn't Presidents' Day, the 18th is. Just want to make sure the right info is out there.

Lew Bryson said...

WHOOPS! You're right, of course, Steve, and I've fixed it. Thanks for the catch.

Daria Brashear said...

There are a few things which seem to never make it to the surface of this debate, and I feel the need to speak up about them.

1) At least some of the loudest people fighting the drink tax are playing fast and loose with facts to suit them. The previous flash on cited a number they claimed we already pay in taxes on drinks of 81%. So, if you go and do the research, you find that to make a number this high work, you need to assume wine, not beer; you need to assume the PLCB retail markup is a tax; and you need to assume a $10 bottle of wine. No basis for their number was provided. This immediately screamed "sketchy".

2) The people screaming loudest about this (certainly not the only ones) seem to be the owners of places that serve. They urge me to take action, because they are concerned on my behalf. If it's really a tax on me, not them, why is there not a louder *grass-roots* movement about this rather than one dominated by places that serve?

3) And, if after all this it's still a problem (and I think it probably is) the last thing that's being neglected is the need to accomodate people who are not in a state to drive at 2am; People who complain that this tax generates more than the shortfall in the Port Authority budget and the leftovers are simply expanding the county general fund have a point. So why are we not expanding service at 2am with this theoretically extra money so there's a credible, affordable option to get home when you walk out at 2:05am and aren't in any shape to do it yourself? And, if that were happening, it might be illuminating to see what opposition remained and what self-interest they might have.

This tax is not, in fact, one that has affected me at all. That's not a statement that it's good, necessarily, but restricted to actually covering the costs of providing a needed, missing service I think this would have considerable benefit. But that debate is being drowned out by the one a seemingly small group of restaurant and tavern owners want us to have.


Anonymous said...

I'd prefer not to pay this tax, but I have yet to hear anyone suggest an alternate tax for funding the Port Authority, which desperately needs a dedicated funding source.

Lew Bryson said...

shadow, Jerry,

Good points, particularly the one about why transit won't run late to accommodate the very drinkers who are being asked to fund it.

But Jerry, if the PA needs the money so badly, and the PA serves all of the area...shouldn't all of the area be paying for it? Philadelphia County has an extra 1% on the PA sales tax, has for years, and you don't see any local merchants complaining (or guys on the other side of the line hyping their big 1% savings). Instead of a drink tax, which puts the burden on one group -- who apparently isn't getting the best benefits they could from transit -- if it's good for everyone, let everyone help pay for it. If you can't get support for an evenly-applied tax, maybe the need ain't so great.

As I said elsewhere, excise taxes are inherently unfair. They only exist because it's easier to rob Peter to pay Paul than it is to take on Peter, Paul, and the whole city. I hate alcohol taxes. Not because they make my booze cost more, but because the money goes into the general fund 98 times out of 100, which means I'm paying more for every government service than some teetotaler is, and that chaps my ass. Taxation is necessary, but only when it's fair. The 10% Drink Tax is NOT fair.

As to why the businesses are backing this, I would guess it's because they have the money -- and the obvious interest -- to start something rolling. If there is NOT popular support for a repeal, it won't pass, and they'll stop spending money. I'd remind you that the first people to start the idea of a Michael Jackson fund-raiser toast to make money for Parkinson's research were bar and brewery owners.

Anonymous said...

These F.A.C.T people sounds like a perfect example for BeerAdvocate magazine's "Advocate This!" page.

Wish I could make that beer dinner myself at Church Brew Works.

Daria Brashear said...

Allegheny County already levies an extra 1% sales tax for the "Regional Assets District". It was controversial in its own way. It was effectively a stadium tax every county in the region was asked to vote on, and to make it more palatable they threw in "hey, and we'll fund libraries and other such things"

The only county to approve it was Allegheny. There's still a budget shortfall, of course.

The whole mess is fraught with politics.

Anonymous said...

Shadow mentioned that Allegheny County already levies the extra 1% sales tax. (For the record, it was in place before the stadium referendum, which would have added an extra half-percent, and was defeated in every county where it was on the ballot, including Allegheny. After that vote, stadium money came from RAD.) Nobody wants to raise property taxes.

As I said in my original post, I'd be happier without the drink tax, but Lew's mention of the sales tax is as close as I've come to seeing an alternative suggested. If the Stop the Drink Tax people came up with something, this would be a better debate.

Lew Bryson said...

Agreed, Jerry. I'm not really completely anti-tax, despite my libertarian convictions: I am, however, dead-set against unfair taxes and fees. Like I always say: if a service is good for the whole community, then the whole community should be paying for it. Taxing drinkers just because you can is simply not right, any more than taxing...nail salons, for instance.

Unknown said...

I'm looking for the full list of people who voted for the drink tax, because come election day I plan to take the list to the polls and let other people see it to.

Anonymous said...

This was pretty amusing:

"Ah, the Pittsburgh Drink Tax; what a relief for nobody. A few months ago you could go into a bar and order a drink and have it cost and even two dollars. Nowadays you pay a dollar more and get back some odd amount of change; like 73 cents or something weird like that. What’s an alcoholic to do?"

Whole article: