Over-collection of Drink Tax funds must not be used to prop up county budget

Pittsburgh, PA – Tonight, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato delivered his 2009 proposed county budget to council.  This budget proposal includes a modest Drink Tax reduction while again failing to deal with the county’s structural deficit.

Allegheny County businessperson and Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT) board member Kevin Joyce said, “Let’s be honest, the Drink Tax was proposed and instituted not solely for the benefit of mass transit, but as a backhanded way to deal with the county’s structural deficit.  The budget looks good on paper – no new property taxes and a reduction in the drink tax – the problem is that this county is not solvent for the long term and our leaders know it.  The Drink Tax is and always has been simply a way to mask these larger issues regarding the fundamentals of the budget.  As you might expect, this plan very simply plays politics for short term gain, neglecting the long term viability of our region.

Kevin Joyce continued, “There was much talk this evening of how to spend the “over-collection” of the Drink Tax.  First, Act 44 dictates that all monies collected as a result of the Drink Tax should be used for mass transit.  Second, we take issue with the premise that this is the county’s money to spend as it sees fit.  This money is being taken out of the pockets of local businesses and the customers who support them, supposedly to subsidize the Port Authority, and our government leaders are treating it as if it’s a rainy day fund to address all that ails this county.  Our industry has been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis, businesses are closing in droves and people are losing jobs, yet our county government continues to bludgeon the hospitality industry with this tax while drawing up an over-collection Christmas list at the expense of countless local families and businesses.  Everyone is being forced to tighten their belts during this economic crisis, except on Grant Street.  The $29.5 million that has been collected through 8 months of 2008, which is already $3.25 million more than the $26.25 million purportedly needed for the 2008 transit match, has been left unspent and collecting interest while our leaders plan their Christmas list.  This budget guarantees it’s going to be a nice Christmas on Grant Street, but I’m not so sure about Main Street.”


October 1, 2008, 10:55 pm
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Pittsburgh, PA – Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein today released the names of 44 establishments who have not fully complied with the 10% Drink Tax imposed as part of the county’s 2008 budget.

Allegheny County businessperson and Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT) board member Kevin Joyce said, “While this tax is unfair and wrongheaded policy, FACT does not condone violating the law.  Actually, it’s our own county government which has, at the very least, bent and twisted the law in their efforts to deny the voters the right to be heard on the need to reduce this tax.  Additionally, although September collections are not due until October 25, they have now collected $3 million more than was needed for the local match for public transportation this year.  Continuing to tax at 10% for the remainder of 2008 and illegally using the extra money for other projects is a far more important breech of the law and is inexcusable during these difficult economic times.  Families and businesses are hurting in this economy, yet our county government continues on a reckless path of attacking a vulnerable industry that is dominated by struggling small businesses.  It is imperative that our leaders look for a broad based solution to funding public transportation that does not due undue harm to one industry or business segment.”

September 30, 2008, 5:18 pm
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Machine Politics Again on Full Display in Allegheny County

Pittsburgh, PA – Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato announced plans last week to reduce the “Drink Tax” by three percentage points in the county’s 2009 proposed budget.

Allegheny County businessperson and Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT) board member Kevin Joyce said, “This is more smoke and mirrors from the county executive and his rubber-stamp associates on council.  The timing of this announcement is especially suspect considering the legal process is in full motion to determine whether or not this issue will be presented to the voters this November.  With all due respect, the county executive and council made this announcement to give the appearance of having heard from the voters, rather than actually listening to the 40,000 plus Allegheny County residents that demanded the chance to vote to reduce the tax to .5%.  This is not Dan Onorato’s call – let the voters decide.”

Kevin Joyce continued, “At every step along the way, Dan Onorato, county council and all those associated with and beholden to the power structure in Allegheny County have done everything in their considerable power to throw up roadblocks, obfuscate, confuse and misdirect the media and the public with regard to this issue.  This proposal is simply more of the same.  The hospitality industry was not asked to come to the table to discuss this proposal, nor were we even allowed in the room at the press conference where these measures were announced.  This is indicative of the leadership style on display in Allegheny County.  Only those who play the game by their rules are allowed a seat at the table.  The majority of Allegheny County voters see it differently and want a chance to vote on this issue.  No more back room deals, no more closed session council meetings, no more politics as usual – let the voice of the people be heard.”