Proposal to tax outdoor advertising in Pittsburgh revived
Pittsburgh City Council again is considering legislation that would tax companies selling advertising space on billboards.
Outdoor-advertising companies would pay 10 percent of what they earn on a sign under the bill, sponsored by council President Darlene Harris and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.
Harris said revenue could go toward buying police cars. Former Councilman Doug Shields proposed such a tax last year.
“This only makes sense,” Harris said on Tuesday. “Without our streets, nobody would see billboards, and police cars are used to protect our streets.”
She said the cash-strapped city needs $2 million to $3 million annually to replace police vehicles on a regular schedule. She estimated the tax could bring in $200,000 to $300,000 next year.
Shields introduced his bill in December after Lamar Advertising, the city's largest outdoor-advertising company, applied to put up 20 electronic billboards in the city. The bill died at the end of the legislative session.
Jonathan Kamin, a Downtown attorney who represents Lamar, called the legislation the “Darlene Harris extortion bill.”
Stan Geier, vice president and general manager of Lamar's Pittsburgh office, said in an email that the proposal is “unconstitutional.”
“Outdoor advertising is a speech protected by the First Amendment, and a special tax levied on any one industry engaging in First Amendment activities is unconstitutional,” he said.
Harris said she and Rudiak modeled their bill after legislation in Philadelphia, which a court upheld. Philadelphia levies a 7 percent tax on the purchase price of billboards; the tax generates about $2.5 million annually.
Harris and Rudiak said advertising companies pay a pittance in real estate taxes on billboard property. The tax would be an alternative to taxing homeowners, Harris said.
“You might have a billboard ... that's paying, what, $14 dollars in property tax? And the house next door is paying $1,000,” Harris said.
A debate over electronic billboards erupted in 2008, when Lamar erected one on the Grant Street Transportation Center, Downtown. The sign ignited protests and prompted council to pass a moratorium on electronic signs, which stands. City officials halted Lamar's construction of the sign, contending the company lacked proper permits. Lamar removed it last year after exhausting extensive legal appeals.
The controversy also triggered the 2008 resignation of Urban Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Pat Ford, who negotiated the transportation center's sign project, after city officials accused him of accepting gifts from a Lamar executive.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com 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.
- Pirates sign free agent 1B-OF Goebbert, RHP Webster
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin not grooming successor to RB Williams
- Steelers kicker Boswell puts best foot forward
- Committee says Senate should consider removing Attorney General Kane
- Derailment impacting Amtrak service eastbound from Pittsburgh
- Maryland man found with missing Ohio girl in Pittsburgh motel
- Buffalo man killed by truck in the West End Circle wanted ‘a fresh start’
- Penguins’ Perron returning to form
- Pittsburgh police chief reviewing use of force policies: Most ‘quite satisfactory’
- Trib readers help families with Operation Santa Claus
- Attorney wants evidence from South Allegheny teacher’s cell phone thrown out