County solicitor rules against drink tax opponents

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Allegheny County Solicitor Mike Wojcik has determined that the petition by the group Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation, which seeks to cut the county's controversial drink tax from 10 percent to 0.5 percent by referendum, is legally insufficient.

Mr. Wojcik was required to review the petition backed by 44,598 signatures, which was submitted to the county elections office Aug. 5. He essentially is advising the county Board of Elections not to certify the petition as a referendum question to appear on the November ballot.

FACT is made up of restaurateurs and bar owners who are opposed to the 10 percent drink tax implemented this year, along with a $2-a-day tax on car rentals, to fund mass transit. Group members in June started collecting signatures in a campaign dubbed the "Whiskey Rebellion II" to put the levy to a ballot vote in November.

But in a move to protect the drink tax, Allegheny County Council, which approved the drink tax, granted itself authority to put referendum questions on the ballot.

Council submitted to the county elections office a referendum question: "Shall the county enact an ordinance to increase real estate taxes in order to repeal the alcoholic drink tax?"

The elections office determined both ballot initiatives were "facially complete" and sought a legal ruling from the county solicitor to determine whether both questions are proper and legal and may be put on the ballot.

Now, Mr. Wojcik has determined that County Council's referendum question is legally sufficient and ready for the ballot, while the anti-drink tax ballot measure is not.

According to the county administrative code, the board of elections has one week to rule on whether both referendum questions are proper and legal and ready for the ballot.


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