In Pittsburgh, It Would Be Wise To Remember 1794
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24 February 2008
In Pittsburgh, It Would Be Wise To Remember 1794
Washington leads his troops to western Pennsylvania - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Back in 1791, the new federal government under the pressure of Federalist Alexander Hamilton approved taxes on distilled spirits. The taxes were discriminatory forcing small producers to  pay per gallon taxes while larger producers paid a flat tax.  The taxes
were intended for the federal governement assuming the state debts incurred during the Revolutionary War. (Hamilton also worked on creating a national debt and the means to pay it off, and setting up a national bank).

By 1794 the drink tax tension became an armed conflict at the Oliver Miller Homestead in South Park Township, Pennsylvania.  George Washington and Alexander Hamilton used the conflict to test the powers of the new federal government.  Martial law was declared in Pennsylvania and Virginia and a federal militia of around 15,000
marched into Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

Backyard distilleries were sought for destruction and a few people were fined between five and fifteen shillings for their trouble in the conflict. However, the troublemaking tax protesters were never found. Some historians claim there never was such an organized rebellion but that instead the situation was created by the Federalists to get citizens accustomed to a standing army.

Now the year 2007 and the County of Allegheny, Pennsylvania government has levied a 10% tax on all drinks poured, uncorked or uncapped.  That's 10% tax on top of the already highly taxed alcohol - a tax modeled on Philadelphia's tax levied to pay for their underfunded school system. A 10% tax for all mixed drinks, beer, whiskey, malt beverages, etc. that you drink while in public (well legally drink in public).  Reports since the tax took effect say that even take-out six packs and single to go bottles are being taxed with the 10% tax surcharge. Turns out the tax applies to all sales of alcoholic beverages, including six-pack sales, mixed drinks, wine and beer (opened or unopened). This includes individual bottles you get at a local bottleshop, a six-pack, a shot of alcohol or any poured beverage. At this pace Allegheny County will be misapplying this tax to cases of beer and liquor bought at the Commonwealth's Wine and Spirits monopoly before summertime.

Port Authority of Allegheny County logoThe 10% in-public-alcohol-tax along with a $2 per rental car tax is intended to bail out the Port Authority (PAT), (year 2004 annual ridership 68 million with $59.4 million income and operating budget of $282.7 million ($212.6 million attributable to EMPLOYEE WAGES and BENEFITS) - total loss of $223.3 million) a government bus and rail transit company that has nothing to do with ports.  A government transit company created back in 1959 to combine 33 PRIVATE transit carriers, Pittsburgh Railways Company (second largest streetcar fleet in North America - of which only three are used by PAT as trolley routes - (and which had 178.7 million passengers and $6.7 million income in the year 1902 and 396.6 million passengers and $21.7 million in income in the year 1926),
and 32 independent bus and inclined plane companies.

What are Port Authority's claims of success for consolidating all these profitable individual privately owned transit companies? Combined fare structures, centralized operations, unified transit system, one of the nation's most diversified public transit agencies. 

How about adding failed, bankrupt and inadequate to the list?

Failed by: removing the streetcar system that had worked for nearly 100 years.
Failed by: not providing adequate transportation for most people. Lack of Saturday, Sunday and holiday service in many area.
Failed by: not providing well lit, safe transit stops.

Bankrupt: not being able to pay your bills and rely on taxpayers from the other side of the who do not use your service but generously pay for such.
Bankrupt: running an operation defeceit of $212.6 million annually and growing.

Inadequate: not providing winter and rain shelters for riders.
Inadequate: not providing bicycle racks on buses. (Although as of February 23, 2007, PG reporting PAT spending another $91,752 for a mere 160 racks - $573.45 per - being funded by tax payer money)
Inadequate: not providing accomodation for bicyclists on busways
Inadequate: running large diesel powered pollution spewing buses around empty all day when a van would do.

Back in 1794 the locals of the Pittsburgh region took their taxed frustrations out on the tax collector and inevitably on the politicians who fueled the lunatic taxes. 1794 marked a start of an era where the out of control Federalists created a new navy and army and to pay for it they raised taxes on land, houses and slaves creating civil unrest. More taxes.

By 1800 Federalists became a footnote in American history due in part to their taxing antics. The Democratic-Republican party (founded by Thomas Jefferson) and today known just as the Democratic Party (often refferred to as "the party of Jefferson") raised to power under states' rights, opposition to a strong national government, doubt in federal courts, opposition to a Navy and national bank.
Most importantly the Democratic-Republicans power was in being anti-taxation.

In the 207 years since the Democratic party developed it has seemingly abandoned it's fundamental belief system.  Taxation ought to represent the interests of the people at the state and local levels. Taxation should be entered into with the voice of the people behind it. Taxation should be avoided and probably voted on via referendum.

Allegheny County Chief Executive (and chief architect behind the 10% drink tax) Dan Onorato (a Democrat who has ran mostly
unopposed) claims to have reduced the county's payroll during his time in office for a savings of $31 million annually. That money along with the $15.5 million found in a December 2007 Performance Audit by Jack Wagner, Auditor General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania reporting PAT's rental of prime real estate, building renovations and not using either space - should more than cover the $36-50 million the drink/rental car tax was expected to raise.

So now, Allegheny County's bean counters are sitting anxiously waiting for the bags of money to start showing up in their offices.  Even though everyone detests the tax and there is major organized opposition to the tax.

Governor-wreckless-Ed-Rendell was asked about instead taxing revenue from the boardline legal poker machines that seem to be well loved fixtures in Allegheny County bars. Ed said hands off the gambling revenue even as quasi-legalizing these machines and providing legal payouts would compete with the monopoly given to the slot parlours / casinos who paid a mere $50 million for their licenses.

So inevitably in Pennsylvania's fashion of being 100 years behind schedule just like a Port Authority bus - the whole drink tax fiasco will end up in the courts and possibly on the ballot in Allegheny county.


A group of restaurateurs and bar owners have already filed suit against the Allegheny County tax. They say if the tax isn't eliminated soon they will use their resources to start a referendum to end the tax come November's election.

But someone needs to tell the restauranteurs and bar owners the story of another referendum back in 1997 that voters unanimously rejected. A referendum that was put on the ballot in 11 counties in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan region and rejected by voters in all 11 counties.  A referendum to raise the sales tax from 6% to 6.5% to pay the city and county debt of $209 million to be incurred to build a new stadium for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers to play their sports in and a new convention center in downtown Pittsburgh.

After losing decisively the good ole' boy leadership of Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania went around and against the voters voices psuedo-legally and got themselves not one but two new stadiums, a new convention center and a slew of other tax payer funded goodies.

After two decades of Pittsburgh being lauded an affordable, up-and-coming, changing city it remains deeply rooted in poor leadership and short-sighted. Pittsburgh's veneer is wearing thin. Those who weathered the downfall of metal industries and remained in Pittsburgh had been driven from their neighborhoods by crime, decay and poverty. Now rising taxes, increasing property values and an antiquated government are driving people out of Pittsburgh. Cranberry Township, Butler County, North Strabane, Washington County, Peters Township, Washington County, Penn Township, Westmoreland County these are all place that have experienced growth from out migration of former Pittsburgh'ers wanting to stay in the region but tired of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Never mind that Pittsburgh leads the population loss column still lately only trailing New Orleans, Louisiana, a city ravaged by hurricane Katrina.

The business-as-usual big corporation suit-and-tie guys are continuing their yuppification - using taxpayer money to build ammenities to lure and retain mid and upper level management. The Port Authority is busy wasting additional new tax payer money digging a hole under the Allegheny river (where bridges are commonplace and walkable) to run the subway under the river (Pittsburgh's own BigDig) all the way to the new stadiums so those managerial types don't have to walk to the game or their new Northshore dwellings like the normal folks. The $435 million 1.2 mile extension with two stops (one for each stadium) is already being mismanaged by the Port Authority with expected cost overruns and closure/destruction of one existing subterranean station.

Just like the Whiskey Rebellion, there is a voice of discontent. When the government taxing authorities finally come to their senses they might realize that the silent protest while still existing - has left and that the taxing burden of government excedes the means of the people to provide for such unnecessary expenses. In Pittsburgh, It Would Be Wise To Remember 1794.
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Re: In Pittsburgh, It Would Be Wise To Remember 1794
Thank you for taking the time to package all of this information together, it's helpful. Next step.. what to do about all of it.
Posted by on February 24, 2008 at 12:35 PM

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