2011 County Budget: A Shell Game

Continuing on the subject of yesterday’s blog, we now turn our attention to what is reported as the plan for two of the revenues received by the County for specific purposes, the drink tax and the hotel tax.

Printed reports state that first, the County Executive "would need [the] county Controller…to sign off on the use of $5 million in hotel tax revenues to help support the county’s parks. Such use would be defined as ‘tourism promotion activities’". Hasn’t the County learned from its 2009 debacle of trying to define roads and bridges as "transit support systems"? Recall that the County wanted to use a share of drink tax money for purposes other than what Act 44 permitted, and the Common Pleas Court denied their request.

The hotel tax generated $24 million in 2010 and is used for "convention related purposes" according to the County Treasurer’s website (the Treasurer is responsible for collecting the tax). So what is the Executive going to argue: that the parks have enticed convention business here? Or that convention-goers venture to one of the County parks when they are in town? If that is the case, spare the expense of a new hotel next to the Convention Center and add greenspace.

Second, "County council would have to approve taking $5 million from the drink-tax fund and making a $5 million supplemental appropriation to the Port Authority". The drink tax is expected to raise $27.2 million this year and is part of the County’s Transit Support Fund, separate and distinct from the General Fund, Debt Service Fund, and Liquid Fuel Fund.

The argument for the drink and car rental taxes to fund PAT was that the County no longer wanted to use property tax revenue and the state would not permit them to dedicate a share of the 1% RAD tax. So what, exactly, will be the source of the $5 million when the right time comes? If it is not the aforementioned taxes, the only other sources could be a piece of a tax lien sale or the host fees the County gets from the Rivers Casino. Beyond that revenues are from Federal or state sources, and we have heard long and tiresome arguments about how that money cannot be used for other purposes (see, Connector, North Shore).