Billboard backlash: Lamar speaks out on a bad tax proposal

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Get into a spraying contest with a skunk and you won't come out smelling like a rose.

That's where advocates for a city billboard tax find themselves, now that Lamar Advertising has fired back with a series of billboards targeting the tax proponents.

Council President Darlene Harris and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak co-sponsored legislation that would impose a 10 percent tax on the amount paid to a company for purchase or rental of billboard space. In this case the tax would be paid by one company, Lamar, since it is the only billboard firm doing business in Pittsburgh.

The money would be collected by the billboard company when advertisers pay it. The new tax would be in addition to property taxes the company pays on the land that holds its signs, annual fees it pays for billboard permits and other business taxes that apply to the firm.

The council members don't think it's fair to the city that a billboard company is taxed based on the meager ground where its signs sit rather than on how much income the billboards generate for its owner. The proponents estimate the plan would bring the city $2 million to $4 million a year.

Lamar responded with billboard messages attacking Mrs. Harris and Ms. Rudiak. One version carries large letters declaring "Worst economy in 50 years" above a photo of Mrs. Harris and this message "Darlene Harris says: Let's raise taxes." A similar billboard zings Ms. Rudiak.

Lamar may be the skunk in our analogy, but we mean no disrespect. After all, you can't blame a creature for defending itself. The company owns billboards all over the region, and it has every right to put its own messages on the displays, even though these are a bit unusual.

Regardless, the billboard tax is a bad idea, as we said before. Council is not without an alternative. It could raise the annual fee for billboard permits, which could bring in more revenue.

That would be preferable to the new tax on billboard income. Singling out one industry, as this proposal does, just stinks.

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