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Billboard tax passes Pittsburgh City Council; lawsuit could follow

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 11:08 a.m.

An attorney representing Pittsburgh's largest outdoor advertising company said the company would “absolutely go to court” over a controversial excise tax.

Pittsburgh City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the tax, which places a 10 percent levy on revenue generated by billboards.

“There is no way this action is legal or appropriate,” said Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represents Lamar Advertising, based in Baton Rouge, La.

The tax should generate $2 million to $4 million annually for the cash-strapped city, according to Council President Darlene Harris. She said the money would go to the city's general fund, but council hopes to use it to buy police cars.

“We are looking everywhere and anywhere to try to enhance revenues, and this is only one avenue,” Harris said.

Kamin said the tax is a restriction on speech and violates the First Amendment.

Lamar lashed out last month by erecting billboards critical of Harris and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, the bill's sponsors.

Kamin said Rudiak violated the state Ethics Act by voting on the bill, based on comments she made during a 2011 council meeting. Rudiak, of Carrick, said that studies indicated her property value would be 30 percent higher without a billboard across the street from her home.

Rudiak called Kamin's accusation “a stretch.”

“It's such an overreach,” she said. “All we're doing is looking to hold the line on residents' property taxes.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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