ShareThis Page
Major group supports new Allegheny County taxes |

Major group supports new Allegheny County taxes

One of the region’s largest economic development groups Thursday backed Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato’s plan to enact two taxes to fill a $30 million budget gap.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development’s endorsement — which came during County Council’s first day of budget hearings — has one catch. It said the county cannot give the Port Authority revenue from the drink and rental car taxes until the cash-strapped transit agency’s union employees agree to wage restructuring and the same health care benefits imposed this year on management and nonunion workers.

“Over the past year, the Port Authority has taken meaningful steps to improve operations and control costs,” said Ken Zapinski, the conference’s senior vice president for transportation and infrastructure. “Those reforms have not yet gone far enough and further serious changes are necessary to keep the Port Authority from further deteriorating.”

Pat McMahon, who heads the union that represents roughly 2,200 current and 2,600 retired Port Authority workers, criticized the comments.

“They take numbers, they twist them around and negotiate our contract,” McMahon said last night. “Labor is sick and tired of these think tanks that think they know all the answers.”

Zapinski was in the minority at the hearing as restaurateurs and businessmen slammed the proposed 10-percent drink tax as poisonous to county business.

“If this tax goes, it will have a dramatic effect on our industry,” said Kevin Joyce, owner of The Carlton and board chairman of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association. “This was a bad hand dealt to you … It’s not only devastating (to businesses), it’s unconscionable.”

“Don’t impose the drink tax,” said John Graf of the North Side/North Shore Chamber of Commerce. “Once that horse is out of the barn, it’s not coming back.”

No resident or business owner testified against the $2-per-day rental car tax.

Council members remained largely silent on the possibility of enacting the taxes, though County Council President Rich Fitzgerald, D-Squirrel Hill, got into a brief debate with Joyce over the budget alternatives.

“Everybody can say, ‘I’m against the cuts, I’m against the drink tax (and) I’m against the property tax,'” Fitzgerald said later. “I hear people saying, ‘The county’s got to tighten its belt.’ What have they been watching for the last 10 years, the last five years?”

The county’s downsizing efforts were on full display yesterday as officials continued the process of searching for budget items to trim.

Onorato plans to lay off 200 employees Jan. 1, which will bring the county-funded work force to 5,284, County Manager Jim Flynn said. From January 1996 to January 2008, the county will have slashed 2,001 jobs — a 27 percent reduction. Nearly half those cuts have come since 2000.

Flynn stressed that many costs are fixed in Onorato’s $727 million budget proposal. In order to cut the entire budget by 5 percent, officials need to cut 17 percent from departments in a $210 million sliver of the budget, he said.

“This is probably the most difficult budget process I’ve been involved in,” Flynn told County Council.

Hearings continue at 4 p.m. today in the County Courthouse, Downtown.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.