Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Darlene Harris "Advertising Justice" Bill...

... is an outrage. The City should be demanding at least 20%. Netting only $4 million would be a largely symbolic drop in the City's nightmarish operating, capital needs and human resources budgeting -- in exchange for all the roads we maintain, plow and police right through Billboard Country. Unlike the Festival of Lights, it's a year-round and citywide display.

How did they arrive at the figure 10% anyway? The establishment Democrats on Pittsburgh City Council are once again being way too business-friendly.

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. (Trib, Bob Bauder; h/t Blogh)

Advertising is speech. Renting out your privilege of speaking with a privately owned billboard is commerce.

Every time you sue us, Lamar, those courtrooms you drag us into -- you didn't build that! Somebody else built that for you.

Image: GoM Oil Spill Blog.


  1. Why don't they just pass a law basing the property value on the rental income, including the billboard rental? It seems absurd that they don't do that now given that we've long since moved from the land value tax.

  2. That is, if it really is unconstitutional to pass a special tax levied on billboards, setting a reasonable property value could accomplish the same thing. Maybe. I'm not a lawyer.

  3. Bingo, MH. The Land-Value Tax has lots of benefits. However, I'm not sure that this is one of them.

    But, property taxes do work for this money hungry council.

  4. This tax would be paid by the renter of the billboard space, collected by the billboard company and remitted to the City. In that respect, it works like the amusement tax - we go to an event, pay a fee and pay a tax on that fee; the company collects our tax and remits it right away to the government offices.

    The Commonwealth laws impede the City from taxing the billboards as structures on properties which earn revenue. If your business is thriving, it may increase the value of your property and those around you. Billboards, on the other hand, do not increase the value of either the property or the surrounding properties - in fact, Scenic America's statistics indicate they reduce property values.

    Therefore, that is revenue not going to the city - from property taxes which are subsequently reduced along with the values.

    Billboards, as the late Howard Gossage pointed out in his "How to Look At Billboards," written many years ago, are advertising that does not bring us anything. The ad in the magazine or newspaper brings us the articles. The ad on tv sponsors our show.

    Billboards do not even pay taxes to the public thoroughfare which they take advantage of. We do - we pay gasoline tax, car registration, driver's license fees, tolls, etc. But billboards just use our airspace, grabbing our eyes and taking advantage of us.

    That latter part cannot be recouped by this tax, but the property tax lag can. That is what this is. I suspect there is some legal reason why it cannot be more than 10%, to address the question.

    But every time I see one blocking my view of a fine Pittsburgh vista, or distracting my eye from the road, or cluttering up my neighborhood, I wish it could be a great deal more.