A modest proposal
In the aftermath of the drinks tax passage, a new issue has risen to the front page: the City of Pittsburgh police claim that their fleet is in such disrepair that they are not able to efficiently respond to incidents. Therefore, I propose that the police department buy a bunch of prepaid bus tickets and have their officers respond to low-urgency calls by taking the bus. PAT’s funding woes get solved, the cops get the transportation they need, and you can bet that people will start moving to the back of the bus when a uniformed officer tells them to. Everyone wins!
In seriousness: while several of my blogging colleagues (Mark and James, I’m looking at you) are correct that we can’t tax our way to prosperity, it’s also true that basic civic infrastructure costs money. Mass transit in particular creates positive externalities (better air quality, decreased congestion on streets, increased sense of community, and fewer drunks on the roads) that can’t be captured by transit fares alone. Is a drink tax the right way to pay for it? Maybe not, but at least they’re taxing something that nobody *has* to consume. If I don’t like the tax, I can invite my friends over instead of going out to a bar. If I go out and my drinks are a bit pricier (though *still* way cheaper than Philly, New York, or DC), I can enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that my beer is helping clean up the air.
It ain’t perfect, but money has to come from somewhere, and until we get the political will to stop wasting money on giant tunnels and questionable highways, the drinks tax seems like a relatively good alternative to me.