Thursday Video: Pittsburgh Drink Tax Song

August 7, 2008

At the stroke of midnight on January 1, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania slapped a 10 percent tax on poured drinks, on top of all other taxes. Like many other heavy taxes on arbitrary items, the tax is more about generating revenue from a popular-to-target item rather than internalizing an externality:

This proposal makes little sense in terms of sound tax policy. First, why should alcohol and car rentals be targeted as the only possible other sources of local tax revenue? Why not tax potato chips or ketchup or even Steelers merchandise? Those may sound like ridiculous targets, but they’re just as legitimate as arbitrarily picking alcohol. Or even better — why not put every consumer item in a hat and pick out one item to impose a heavy tax upon?[…]

[P]oliticians need to stop targeting single items for taxation (or possible taxation), despite their political appeal, and those citizens who believe in individual liberty need to ask these policymakers to explain why they want to target alcohol. Do they want to bring prohibition back? If they say no, then ask them what tax rate they would prefer and make them justify that amount on that specific item.

This week, organizers delivered more than the 23,000 signatures needed to put a repeal initiative on the ballot. One proponent said that if they kept petitioning, they would have ultimately obtained signatures from a majority of the electorate. But, seeking to undermine and confuse this effort, Allegheny County Chief Executive (and drink tax sponsor) Dan Onorato has put a competing initiative on the ballot asking voters to raise real estate taxes “in order to repeal the alcoholic drink tax.” Should be a fun campaign.

This amusing video by local “Irish balladeer” Terry Griffith went up when the drink tax was passed.

The lyrics:

I sat down one evening to figure income tax.
I read the regulations and wrote down all the facts.
Before too long my pencil was just a little nub.
My head was aching badly so I went down to the pub.

I called for a pint of Guinness and it had a lovely head.
As the barman set it on the bar he looked at me and said.
I know it was six dollars the last time you were out
But now it’s six and sixty for a pint of Guinness stout.

I asked him what the deal was and why the price was high.
Was the Publican so greedy he has to wring us dry?
He said County Alleghany has decided to tax the drink
To bail out public transit which was teetering on the brink.

I thought about the logic of taxing folks who drink.
It seems to me the reasoning is a little out of sync.
The only time I take the bus I’m tryin’ to stay alive.
Home is just too far to walk and I’m too drunk to drive.

There’s a sin tax and a luxury tax and a tax on what we earn.
And a tax on entertainment but what really makes me burn.
Is taxing people in the pub who like a drink or two.
I guess Dan Onorato is not like me and you.

He says it’s not an issue that matters much to him.
He’d rather bow to pressure than to go out on a limb.
Other areas tax the drink and they’re in the very same boat.
We’ll see how much it matters when we all go out and vote.

If you think that it’s an unfair tax and don’t know who to tell
Remember the Whiskey Rebellion started here as well.
So think about the tax you pay on every single beer
And then you tell ol’ Danny Boy that he’s not welcome here.

Did Onorato honor auto rental tax to boot?
I’m surprised that Enterprise hasn’t brought a legal suit.
If Port Authority wants to last and forever stay alive
I guess they’ll just encourage us to rent and drink and drive.


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