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 If more people know about it and complain to their legislators, it may be repealed.