Monday, December 10, 2007

Drink tax causing hangover

Drink tax causing hangover Besieged by criticism of the new 10 percent tax on alcoholic drinks, Allegheny County Council members have seen the relationship between Democrats and Republicans take a decidedly acrimonious turn.

Representatives of both parties have vowed to try to set aside political differences to undo the damage done by the tax debate and the accusations it generated.
Remember, no Libertarian voted for the drink tax.

I'd expect that the members of council would have a set-up to pass the drink tax and then try to blow smoke as to why some were against it. It gave some cover. Then one was in the deal to vote for it and leave council. Now they will try to patch things up and do the lockstep boosterism as a legislative body, sign of solidarity, whatever.

Why in the world was the alternative without ever a chance of passing? That is the big lie here. When options are never with a chance -- we all face continual defeat.

DeFazio was sharply critical of the 'manner in which it was presented.' That's kill the messenger statement. Statements about the message are absent. DeFazio needs to know he has a vote. His votes speak volumes. His votes hold the truth. Those that vote for the new taxes are for the new taxes. That's honesty. DeFazio voted for both new taxes.

If DeFazio or others didn't want to see the tax, he could have and should have voted "NO." And, if he had any other idea, it should have been presented. But he is only good for sharp, critical jabs that try to twist the real truth.

It is one matter to fight against the cutting of services to residents. It is another to fight against the cutting of residents. The county is shrinking!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Drink tax causing hangover
Heavy criticism of county council has Democrats, Republicans sniping
Monday, December 10, 2007
By Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Besieged by criticism of the new 10 percent tax on alcoholic drinks, Allegheny County Council members have seen the relationship between Democrats and Republicans take a decidedly acrimonious turn.

Representatives of both parties have vowed to try to set aside political differences to undo the damage done by the tax debate and the accusations it generated.

The tax, which goes into effect next month, was approved in a 10-4 vote Tuesday. Nine of the 10 votes in favor came from Democrats.

Three Republican opponents -- Matt Drozd, Vince Gastgeb and Jan Rea -- submitted an alternate budget proposal that aimed to avoid a tax increase, but it was sent to council members via e-mail only four days earlier and never had a chance of passing.

Councilman John P. DeFazio, D-Shaler, responded with a statement that sharply criticized the Republicans' budget for the manner in which it was presented, as well as the cutting or elimination of county services that it proposed. Mr. DeFazio also found fault with what others were saying to the news media.

"They're trying to paint it like we're for taxes and the Republicans are not. That's not the truth," he said. "None of us wants to see a tax. But no one wants to increase property taxes. The other option is cutting services."

Mr. Drozd, R-Ross, said the Republicans should not bear the burden for the actions of the Democratic majority.

"They're trying to make excuses for putting taxes on the people of Allegheny County," he said. "They're trying to make excuses and take the blame off themselves. They're pointing the finger at us for trying to save the people taxes."

Mr. DeFazio said the Republicans' proposals were "terrible," and would have cost the county millions of dollars in grants and meant drastic cuts at the Kane Regional Centers, at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center and in juvenile court placements.

He also criticized the proposal for containing millions of dollars in "phantom revenues" from nonprofit organizations and sales of liened property.

"This is a serious situation," Mr. DeFazio said, defending the drink tax as the best option. "We have to do something."

Signing onto Mr. DeFazio's statement were fellow Democrats Charles Martoni, James Burn Jr., Joan Cleary, Michael J. Finnerty, Brenda Frazier, Robert J. Macey, Bill Robinson and council President Rich Fitzgerald, nearly all of whom justified their votes for the tax and took swipes at the Republicans' late proposal.

"This was not a pleasant decision to have to make, but it would be both cowardly and unfair to avoid our responsibilities to our neediest residents," said Mr. Martoni, D-Swissvale.

"The attempts by some in the media and others to suggest that we did not listen to the constituents of this county is absolutely false," said Mr. Burn, D-Millvale.

"The proposal presented by council members Drozd, Gastgeb and Rea would have eliminated more than $300 million in health and human services," said Ms. Cleary, D-Brentwood. "These are real cuts to real services vital to not only my constituents but all county residents. ... I will continue to fight against any proposal or legislation that would reduce services to our residents."

Mr. Robinson, chairman of council's Budget and Finance Committee, took particular exception to the e-mailed proposal coming "after three months of budget deliberations, without any means for fiscal analysis. ... I take it as a personal insult to my position as budget chairman."

Mr. Drozd said it was the Democratic leadership of council and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato who were responsible for a hasty and painful solution to a budget problem they should have seen coming.

"This was bad management on the part of Mr. Onorato," Mr. Drozd said. "He steers the ship, he's the captain. This is a shortfall in the budget. And when there's a shortfall in the budget, and we find out about it only two months ago, something that serious, I say that's bad management. We didn't have much time to come up with alternatives to save the people of Allegheny County new taxes.

"And every time we institute a new tax or increase a tax, we make our county less competitive than our surrounding counties."

Mr. Drozd said there was no planning involved and the result was "a knee-jerk reaction."

"Why weren't we looking at this a year ago, two years ago?" he asked. "They are the majority. They should have brought this to council a long time ago, not two months ago. This is the second-largest county in Pennsylvania and there's no planning here."

Mr. Drozd said there may be financial alternatives available from the state that have not been pursued or permitted to bear fruit.

Asked what could be done to advance planning in the future to avoid such situations and conflicts, Mr. Drozd said: "I'm going to put some things forward. You're going to see something I'm going to say [this] week. And I'm going to try to mandate that this county does strategic planning."

Mr. DeFazio said he hoped to see some relief for the county's bar and restaurant owners in the form of an increase in the discount they get on alcoholic beverages from the state. Currently, they get 10 percent. He said council is pushing for a boost to 14 percent.

As far as the tax that has been approved, he said, he still believed it was the best alternative.

"We have nothing to hide," he said. "We'll go on any talk show, we'll stand under Kaufmann's clock and tell you why we had to do it. Don't get me wrong, I feel bad for the people who sell the alcohol. It's a shame. But to be truthful, if we go the other route, we hurt a lot more people and it's a lot worse, in my opinion."

As to how this might affect the future working relationship of council members, Mr. DeFazio said, "There's probably some ill feelings all the way around."

Mr. Drozd agreed, but he refused to characterize this as a "low point" in political relations among council members.

"They ought to own up to what they did," he said of the Democrats. "But now they ought to reach across the aisle and say we all need to work together to find ways to save the taxpayers money, to reduce taxes in Allegheny County. That's what I want to do.

"We still have to work collaboratively to do what's best for the people of Allegheny County. I don't care what your party is, let's work together."
Dan Majors can be reached at or 412-263-1456.