Monday, September 15, 2008

Both Drink Tax Referenda Stay Off Ballot

Both proposals on Allegheny County's drink tax should be left off the ballot, according to President Judge Joseph James. One referendum was proposed by the group Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation (FACT), many of whose members are bar and restaurant owners. That proposal would lower the drink tax from its current 10 percent to 0.5 percent. Carlton restaurant owner Kevin Joyce says FACT always believed this case would have to be settled in the Commonwealth or state Supreme Court, and his group will appeal. He says bar and restaurant owners estimate they will lose $70 million this year because of the drink tax. They believe they have been unfairly targeted as a revenue source for the Port Authority.

The other referendum thrown off the ballot was drafted by the county Council. It would ask voters whether they would prefer higher property taxes to a drink tax. Council President Rich Fitzgerald says his constituents have told him overwhelmingly that they prefer the drink tax. He says if both referenda stay off the ballot, that's fine--he says the important thing is that voters not be asked to lower the drink tax without accepting that the county has to raise revenue some other way.

Drink tax collections so far this year have been higher than expected. Fitzgerald says as the Council prepares to enter budget talks, it will consider whether the tax should be adjusted. But he also says some expenses have been higher than expected, as well--like fuel.

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