70 Years Later, Pennsylvanians Still Paying Johnstown Flood Tax

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The old newsreel videos of the Johnstown Flood of 1936 are certainly terrifying as residents flee the rising river. The aftermath left a city destroyed with 30,000 homeless.

With such carnage apparent, Pennsylvania enacted the Johnstown Flood Tax, a tax on every bottle of alcohol purchased in the state. It was enacted to rebuild the city.

“By 1942, they had sufficient funds to rebuild the city,” says State Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Beaver Falls. “And yet the tax continued.”

“It continued and it was even expanded,” he says.

And that’s the rub. Nearly 70 years after Johnstown was rebuilt, the hidden flood tax adds 18 percent to the cost of buying alcohol in this state. It surprises most consumers.

“I’ve heard about the Johnstown Flood, but not the tax,” says one liquor store customer in Robinson.

“Well that’s a surprise to me. Course nothing’s a surprise when you live in Pennsylvania,” says another.

“You would think that we would be done with the tax by now.”

But it hasn’t been done away with. This once temporary tax now generates $200 million a year for the general revenue fund, despite efforts by a few legislators like Marshall to repeal it.

“Since 1997, I think there have been about 13 bills to repeal or reduce the tax,” he recalls.

And all have gone nowhere, says Marshall, because so few people know about this 18 percent hidden tax.

The Johnstown Flood Tax has been with Pennsylvania so long after it finished its job that nobody really thinks it’s going to end any time soon. The key to ending it is public education. If more people know about it and complain to their legislators, it may be repealed.

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One Comment

  1. critter says:


    1. Ray says:

      You can blame the Dems, but understand that the Repubs have controlled the state government several times in the past 2 decades and they failed to repeal it. It’s all politicians. If they think they can get away with it, they will continue to do it despite their rhetoric.

  2. runner says:

    Why not use that for transportation issues? But that would make too much sense!! This is the same state that spends millions of dollars to get people to quit smoking but if everyone quit in pennsylvania the state would go bankrupt from the loss of revenue!!! It just makes you wonder why people dont pay attention to more important things in life but thats what THEY count on!!! The stupidity and lack of knowledge makes them stronger and richer while we get poorer and poorer!!

  3. Don'tDrink says:

    And after they repeal? They’ll just come up with another way to get your money,

  4. Liz says:

    I just bet John Murtha had something to do with continuing this.

  5. Denny says:

    Let us continue to tax ourselves back to prosperity. Been to Johnstown lately? Like milk and honey…

  6. Jen says:

    Their ad reads the flood is over, so should be the tax

  7. Lou Ann says:

    I live in J-town and first learned about the

  8. Lou Ann says:

    I live in Johnstown and first learned about the tax from one of Glenn Beck’s books with
    facts about ridiculous government projects
    in our country. I was shocked that Johnstown was listed and no one I asked had known of this, even though we had lived here all our lives. Believe me, just visit our town and it won’t take you long to realize we are not the recipients of the money since the flood walls were erected. Do not know where it has all gone for the last 60 years. Does anyone know??????

    1. Zoeyzotron says:

      entitlement programs… and we’ll never get that money back. Sad but true

    2. george davies says:

      i know where it went right into the goverments pocket. our goverment needs to account for all the money they spend down to the cent.if they cant they need to go to jail. just like any normal person who steals.and this is a 60 year theft ring. and it makes bernie madof look like he stole a bubblegum machine .

  9. chevelle64 says:

    most everybody knows this, but nothing can ever be done because our government is totally dysfunctional, it is like daylight savings time, everyone agreees there is no longer any logical reason for it but no one can do anything about it cause it has to be done through the government, or the electoral system that puts a president in office even though not getting the most votes, all simple fixes but no one can agree on anything in politics to change anything

  10. Imaleavin says:

    The politicos have to keep their salary and perks paid for!!! Lining their pockets are the only things they know any more. Remember it is us who pay for their cars, insurances on their vehicles, per diems, expenses, pensions, life time medical and nursing home care. The money has to come from somewhere. Until the people wake up and stop voting via party and look at the people may be we stand a chance. And any bozo indicted or convicted will automatically lose their pensions, sure it is a nation where we are innocent until proven guilty but unfortunately these idiots go way beyond knowing right from wrong. They are always right that is why we are paying what we do.

  11. Dave says:

    Just like emissions was supposed to be a temporary move until the air was clean. Well, guess what, the air is clean, but yet emissions is still required! Another state mandated waste!

  12. Ray says:

    This is just another “temporary” tax that doesn’t go away. The government believes that they are ENTITLED to the money and that they know what to do with it more than we do. Just another corrupt way of taking our money.

  13. Tim says:

    Yeah, just like Federal Income Tax, which was also supposed to be temporary.

  14. Zoeyzotron says:

    Just like the Allegheny County 7% sales tax was to be temporary and go back to 6%…. 15 years ago. Just like Onorato’s Drink Tax…. Once a tax is here, it is HERE TO STAY. Please keep that in mind when you vote next time.

    1. Dave says:

      haha, oops I see you already covered my point.

  15. Adam says:

    People are going to keep buying alcohol no matter how expensive it is. I say we keep the tax otherwise our already “poor” state will have even less money. Maybe it is even a good thing because if alcohol were cheaper wouldn’t there be more drunk people around all of the time? BTW I am from Johnstown and I have known about the tax for many many years.

  16. george davies says:

    how many other hidden taxes are there and how do we find out about them..

  17. Dave says:

    No different than the (temporary) renaissance tax that increased Allegheny County’s tax by 16% (from 6 to 7). This was told by the govt that it would be temporary. I never believed it would go away but sadly many people bought into it and actually trusted the gvt. I think it went into effect 15 years ago now…

  18. jasperddbgghost says:

    Hey, both the libs and cons need to get paid…and there isn’t going
    to be anybody that gets in their way.

    I’d like to see more news stories of these congress leeches
    voting to lower their pay by 1/3rd or more. It’ll never happen.

    How we let them “vote” to raise their own pay is beyond me.

  19. hutch1200 says:

    Every Govenor since at least the ’70’s has tried to sell off the whole state run Pa Licquor Control Board stores (PALCB). Even CEO’s from ATT type companies were approached to form a group to take over the whole deal back then. They tried selling “turfs” ala NYC taxi medallions to mom & pops by local bids. All ideas failed. Unforuneately, the employees are union, and they are good patronage jobs for both partys. Even the trucking/distribution/warehousing firms, who are in favor w/the current Govenors, get lucritive contracts. And the rents they pay are ludicrus. I live in Scranton, and have to get a certain brand of Champaign from NJ. for special occassions. I don’t even drink myself, but like “top shelf” for guests. Hell, they came closer to tolling I-80 and selling the Turnpike than getting rid of the PLCB. And as a Repub, I do agree w/Ray on this one. My money is Dubia(?) will have them all w/in 5 years as we go broker.

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