Friday, December 07, 2007

The New Drink Tax.

A couple of days ago the Allegheny County Council voted on a proposed 10% tax on 'poured alcohol drinks'. Along with a new tax on rental cars, this tariff has officially been incorporated into the 2008 city budget. I wasn't surprised that the measures passed. Council Chief Executive Dan Onorato cited a need for increased funds to support mass transit. These latest actions are expected to generate over $30 million for the beleaguered Port Authority. Onorato considers this a major victory because (he says) he opposes any increase in property taxes that may have been necessary had the measure been voted down. Just as the terminology of the proposal suggested, the levy will only be applied to alcohol drinks served within bars and restaurants.

The PA Restaurant Association (not surprisingly) mustered heavy opposition to the bill. They claim that the tax will merely be passed on directly to the consumer, and result in decreased business. Onorato claims that similar taxes in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlanta haven't hurt the hospitality industry in those cities. Of course both sides can point to studies that back up their respective positions. But business owners in Pittsburgh are already loudly proclaiming that they will not give in to the new tax. Now they are threatening to sue the council. They are using phrases like "miscarriage of justice" and "stop this travesty". I'm not sure what kind of case they can put together. It's not like this qualifies as "taxation without representation", as some reactionaries would have you believe.

I have a few friends and a family member who own bars and restaurants. It's not as if I don't sympathize with their collective plight. With the generally worrisome trends in the economy, I would imagine that people have already made the decision not to go out as much as they had been. There very well may be a shift toward moderation. And it's not only the proprietors of businesses that serve alcohol that will be hurt if less people drink alcohol- the service industry employees that depend on tips for a living are going to be affected as well. Despite my personal affiliations, I am more apt to feel sympathetic for servers than anyone else in the equation.

However I do find it humorous to see the usual suspects whining about the burden a drink tax will have on the honest and hardworking citizens of the county. It was as if someone was taking away people's health insurance (oh yeah, sure... that's another subject). If we are truly committed to any level of public service, it naturally follows that someone is going to have to pay for it. I have a hard time feeling bad for the raging alcoholics that are going to suffer the high costs of this bill. Pittsburgh seems to have more bars than any comparably-sized city in the nation. Obviously this is a city of drinkers. Granted the whole country tends to overindulge when it comes to alcohol, but we in the 'Burgh seem to transcend the norm. So maybe people can skip that last drink before slipping behind the wheel to go home. If so, we can all expect to be just a little bit safer.

While we are on the subject of drinking and driving- there is an interesting point I haven't heard in this debate. People with cars are anxious to let public transit slip away from Pittsburgh. Hell, they are happy not to have to sit behind another goddamn bus in traffic. They don't use mass transportation, so why should they care? And furthermore, why should they be asked to help pay for it? The answer is simple- many of the folks we rely on to keep an orderly and healthy city rely on buses to get to and from work (and that includes a lot of the staff in restaurants and bars throughout the city). Without such access they would lose their jobs. But another (perhaps more compelling reason) is that many of our fair city's drinkers end up with suspended licenses each year. It makes sense that they should be asked to pay up front for the services they will come to rely on later- when they aren't allowed to drive. Maybe if we actually had a well-funded public transportation system, people would use it to get home from the bars and avoid causing trouble for everyone on the road.

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Blogger Brent said...

Very good point about the drink tax, I do hope one day public transit can limit the amount of drink drivers on the road, and reducing the agency to helping car-less people get to work will not help that goal.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

It's strange to me that organizations like MADD and SADD haven't weighed in with their support.

5:49 PM  

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