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Friday, July 18, 2008

Trib hits on democracy fronts

Lance: To Dan Onorato & Allegheny County Council. They've stretched the limits of their power in pushing for a referendum to counter a voter-inspired proposal for a referendum that, if approved, would drastically cut the onerous 10 percent tax on poured alcoholic drinks.

Article XII of the county Home Rule Charter is explicit -- voter referendum is a power reserved to the people. Actually, it was designed as check on the council, if not a chief executive egging on a council dominated by the same party. "Voter" is the operative word, used no fewer than 10 times in the article's three sections.

The charter enumerates no such power for the council -- other than for the council to initiate a charter-amending referendum and for it to facilitate ballot placement of a voter-initiated referendum.

Furthermore, even if County Council had such a warrant, a ballot question asking voters to choose between the drink tax and raising property taxes -- which is the kind of question it and the ACE have been bandying about -- also is a direct violation of Article XII (Section 2). Any refe

Clearly, the proposed County Council question, and obviously supported by Mr. Onorato, deals with two (and offers quite a false choice at that).

Seizing a power government does not have, then attempting to muddy the waters with a question of dubious legality, certainly isn't what you'd call "best government practice."

If the council and the chief executive want that power, they'll have to go through the people whence they derive their permission to amend the charter. Lots of luck on that one, ladies and gentlemen.

Indeed, if the council wants to be ornery, if not suicidal, it can wait two years after the drink tax is reduced and attempt to amend or repeal the public's instructions. Which would be great economic news -- for Allegheny County's tar and feather industries.