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Council's split vote won't lower parking tax

| Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh City Council voted Wednesday against lowering the city's 40-percent parking tax next year, even though state law dictates it should drop to 37.5 percent.

The preliminary decision is unlikely to hold in a final vote set for Dec. 30.

Council's move, though, is a reminder that half of the members oppose lowering the tax because they believe parking-lot operators pocket the extra cash and don't pass on the savings to customers.

Legislation to reduce the parking tax failed because it didn't receive five votes. Council voted 4-4, which automatically results in a "negative recommendation." There is one vacant seat on the nine-member council.

"If the final vote has a negative recommendation, then that will begin a debate that we saw last year, when I tried to freeze the parking tax," said Councilman Jim Motznik, who has long opposed lowering the tax. "Then the state will threaten to withhold state funds. So, I would have to assume that it would not receive enough votes to pass."

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a state board appointed to oversee Pittsburgh's finances, can withhold state funding from the city to force it to comply with a five-year financial-recovery plan.

The oversight board, however, has not used that option, which is viewed as a last resort.

Joanna Doven, spokesman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, noted that council members approved the mayor's 2009 budget Monday, which anticipates the parking-tax decrease. She declined to comment further.

According to the budget, parking-tax revenues are expected to drop to $42.3 million in 2009 if the tax reduction is approved, down from an estimated $44.1 million this year.

Voting against the parking-tax decrease were Council members Darlene Harris, Tonya Payne, Motznik and President Doug Shields.

The 2.5-percent decrease in the parking tax is part of legislation that state lawmakers approved in 2004 to help cash-strapped Pittsburgh generate revenue. The law raised the parking tax from 31 percent to 50 percent in 2004 and scheduled annual decreases to reduce the tax to 35 percent in 2010.

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