The never-ending skirmish over the drink tax in Allegheny County is fraught with ironies. One is that the tavern owners, restaurant operators and Republican County Council member who sued to ensure that every dollar of the tax went to public transit weren't actually concerned about funding the Port Authority. They wanted to torture Dan Onorato, the county executive who initiated the tax. And they did, up to a point. The judge ruled last week that the extra $12 million collected from last year's tax has to go toward mass transit and not fixing roads and bridges, as Onorato desired. So Monday he said he will not appeal the decision, he will use the extra money for capital improvements to the transit system and he will economize to pay for the county's other needs.
The latest irony comes in words from Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton restaurant and a stalwart opponent of the drink tax. He opposed the 10 percent levy from its inception a year ago, then fought vigorously to eliminate it or at least roll it back. The county cut the tax rate to 7 percent for 2009 after seeing that it generated more revenue last year than needed. What's startling -- or maybe not surprising -- is that after a year of hammering away at the county for over-taxing taverns and restaurants, Joyce rationalized in today's PG about the same establishments over-taxing their customers by not reducing drink prices after the tax rollback.
Joyce said, "A good case could be made for bar owners hanging on. There's never been a tougher year than 2008 for the hospitality industry. From the drink tax, to the increased costs, then demand decreased, and then in the fourth quarter, the economy crashed and people weren't spending as much disposable income."
It's true Joyce is in a tough business. So is anyone in government. Onorato feels his pain.