“Not Marble, nor the Gilded Monuments…”

One of my many problems with government is the ratchet effect — that Brezhnevian notion that when government has done something, it will never be undone; the idea that government can only grow, rather than adapt and discard elements that have served their original purpose. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to learn that we’re still funding a Freedmen’s Bureau somewhere.

But such hyperbole aside, let’s consider a state-level activity. The city of Johnstown, PA, has been victimized by a couple of great floods, one famous, one less so. After the 1936 flood, the state of Pennsylvania passed a tax on alcohol to rebuild Johnstown. By 1942, the tax had raised enough cash to rebuild the city. That is to say, it had served its purpose and could be repealed, right?

What do you think? The tax is still in place, and has even been expanded over the years, and it now does two things: It raises the cost of alcohol in Pennsylvania by 18%, and it gives Pennsylvania a wad of cash to play with:

[I]t hasn’t been done away with. This once temporary tax now generates $200 million a year for the general revenue fund, despite efforts by a few legislators […] to repeal it.

As we’ve established, this is a tax that has outlasted its original purpose by about 70 years. Meanwhile, the state government has been spending the money the obsolescent tax raised. Maybe it spent the money wisely; maybe it spent the money foolishly. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. What matters is that people in Pennsylvania have spent the last seven decades forking over their cash under what amounts to false pretenses and a sort of anesthesia.

Forget binge drinking — maybe the real problem is binge taxation, and far too often, on far too many levels, the party never stops.

H/T: Ace.

(Post title courtesy of two of my favorite poems)

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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3 Responses to “Not Marble, nor the Gilded Monuments…”

  1. Alaska Jack says:

    In the sage words of my father, “Whether times are good or bad, there’s always be money to be made in the servicing of vices.”

    If you’re willing to accept that government is just another form of business (with all that entails), it doesn’t surprise me in the least that this or something like it would happen. The rationale behind these policies is often stated in socially positive terms, such as discouraging use of damaging substances, etc. (here in Alaska a pack of Marlboros will set you back just shy of $10 for that stated reason), but the underlying issue is that it’s a cash cow. When times are good, people drink to celebrate; when they’re bad, they drink to feel better. Or they toke up and get their kicks. Regardless, the state gets it’s cut. As Todd Snider puts it, “…this war on drugs is funded by alcohol and tobacco commissions; it’s not *what* drugs you’re strung out on, so much as *whose*.”

    I fully recognize that as a little-l-libertarian I’m walking the razor’s edge with this one, but in the world of discretionary personal spending I’m not nearly as concerned with the collection of taxes on things like this as I am with what’s done with said revenue. If the cigarette tax goes to fund the issues of smokers so I don’t have to, then great; if not, then there had better be a really super-duper project from which we all can benefit to which it’s allocated.

    Now, start in on the taxation/surcharging of things which arguably aren’t necessities, or simply “because we can” (as in the way the state of Oklahoma has designated parts of the US Interstate system as turnpikes, thus ‘supplementing’ their federal highway revenue, while providing roads no better than any other in the state), and we (I) have a problem. But that’s for another post 🙂

  2. Well, its good that Pennsylvania is enjoying the alcohol taxes. However, there should be transparency as to how those taxes were being used to improve the city. The money shouldn’t go wasted and unaccounted for.

  3. Kate P says:

    Not surprising. . . there’s been another proposal about a beverage tax in Philadelphia. I guess there’s money to be made from what we drink!

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