Restaurant owners vow to fight drink tax
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Local restaurant owners vow to fight a proposal to add a 10 percent tax to alcoholic drinks served in Allegheny County.
"If this passes, we will have petitions in every restaurant within 48 hours," said Kevin Joyce, proprietor of The Carlton and chairman of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association.
Mr. Joyce and other local restaurant owners met yesterday to work out strategies to fight the tax, and they have already contacted legislators about removing the tax language from the bill.
Should those efforts fail, "it will have serious implications for the hospitality industry," he said.
A Senate transportation funding bill would give Allegheny County officials the authority to tax drinks served in restaurants, bars and clubs up to 10 percent, and tax rental cars $2 a day. County Chief Executive Dan Onorato had asked legislators for options for funding the cash-strapped Port Authority other than raising property taxes.
Restaurant owners are upset that they'd be expected to carry most of the financial burden.
Had restaurant owners been consulted, they could have proposed alternatives, like having the state lower its liquor costs to offset the added tax to restaurateurs, said Glenn Hawley, owner of Monterey Bay Fish Grotto in Mount Washington.
"Why should I hurt my bottom line to support a drink tax to prop up the Port Authority?"
Mr. Joyce said the tax would be in addition to "the five levels of taxation" already in place that make a $10 bottle of wine cost $18.
Mr. Hawley added that, should the full 10 percent tax be imposed, a $6 beer at a Pirates game would cost $6.60. But, rather than carry around coins for change, he predicted "they're going to sell that beer for $7."
Restaurant owners also are upset that the proposal was negotiated behind closed doors without public hearings or comments.
Sean Casey, owner of The Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, has set up a Web site, www.stealthtaxer.com, decrying the "cloak and dagger fashion" in which lawmakers included the 10 percent enabling tax in the transportation funding bill.
"After the pay raise debacle of 2005 and the resulting voter backlash, our elected politicians promised a more transparent way of conducting themselves in Harrisburg," Mr. Casey says on the site. "Regretfully, on a county executive level and a state level, actions have been taken to make us doubt their sincerity."
Kevin Evanto, spokesman for Mr. Onorato, yesterday reiterated that the bill would enable, but not impose, a tax.
"If [legislators] give us this option, there will be a full public process that goes on here in Allegheny County. County Council would have to approve it and the county executive would have to sign it. There would be lots of opportunity for public input."
First Published July 9, 2007 11:45 pm