Council approves tax on Pittsburgh billboards

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Pittsburgh City Council decided Tuesday that the chance to bring in another $2 million to $4 million in annual revenue is worth a legal skirmish over its 10 percent tax on billboard proceeds.

Minutes after council unanimously approved the tax, Jonathan Kamin, an attorney for Lamar Advertising, said the company would sue to overturn it.

"We are absolutely going to court," Mr. Kamin said, claiming that council has overstepped its taxing authority and has shown a vendetta against the billboard industry. Lamar earlier this year lost its legal challenge to another city ordinance restricting the placement, brightness and other features of billboards.

Council President Darlene Harris and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who in September introduced legislation authorizing the billboard tax, said they're looking out for a struggling city and its 300,000 residents.

"All we're doing is, we're holding the line on property taxes and [ensuring] companies like this pay their fair share," Ms. Rudiak said.

In a high-profile move against the billboard tax, Lamar in October began putting messages on dozens of its signs criticizing Mrs. Harris and Ms. Rudiak for sponsoring a measure that, Mr. Kamin said, ultimately would hurt the companies who lease space from his client.

On Monday, Mr. Kamin took a different tack, asking Ms. Rudiak to recuse herself from Tuesday's vote because she once stated at a council meeting that she lives near a billboard and believes it will lower her property value.

Asked about a lawsuit from Lamar, Mrs. Harris said many pieces of legislation invite legal challenges. She has suggested that the $2 million to $4 million to be generated by the tax be earmarked to pay for police cars.

"This is not the only bill that will be coming up to try to enhance our budget," Mrs. Harris said. After the meeting, she noted that city officials and state overseers want to coax more money from nonprofits that do not pay real estate taxes on many of their properties.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has not decided whether to sign the billboard tax into law, his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said. Council's unanimous vote, however, signals a veto-proof majority.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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