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Albrecht Powell

The "Johnstown Flood" Tax

By August 27, 2007

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Many of you have probably heard of the 1889 Johnstown Flood, one of the worst natural disasters in United States history. What you may not know, however, is that another great flood hit Johnstown in March 1936, a flood that is still taxing Pennsylvania alcohol sales.

Originally created to channel emergency relief funds to victims of the Johnstown Flood, the Johnstown Flood Tax is a 10 percent temporary tax that was placed on the sale of all alcohol in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was only supposed to last a few years to raise the $41 million necessary to rebuild the community - an effort that was achieved by the end of 1942. Nearly 70 years later, that tax is still in place and now stands at 18 percent (before the statewide 6% sales tax is tacked on).

The near $200 million collected annually no longer goes to flood victims, however, instead going into the general fund for lawmakers to use as they see fit. A temporary tax that has overstayed its welcome.

December 5, 2006 at 9:47 am
(1) Tom Martin says:

I never heard of this tax before today (Dec 5, 2006)- it was referenced in another article — amazing – and we still pay …thieving politicians

April 4, 2007 at 4:26 pm
(2) a beard says:

why isn’t this money used to fix the bridge problem in pa. ????
this needs to be looked into !

April 24, 2007 at 10:43 am
(3) Lee Baron says:

I sent an email to Gov. Rendell a year ago asking when is the Johnstown flood tax going to be taken off the tax books….Received no reply !! I guess I really didn’t expect one from socialist minded politicians.

August 11, 2007 at 1:44 pm
(4) Big Al says:

Keep the tax. Mandate that it be used to help flood victims statewide,not channeled to the General Assembly. The tax generates approximately $220 million per year. Over 71 years, that’s over $15 billion dollars.

August 13, 2007 at 10:57 am
(5) jack bennett says:

also they put a 6% tax on the 18% tax. put the flood tax only on flood situations. even on bridge maintenance.

December 31, 2007 at 4:25 pm
(6) Chris says:

I live in Johnstown, PA and since the flood is pretty well cleaned up this tax should be used to benefit the new plague in Johnstown. It should be used strictly to bring jobs into PA, try to lower the unemployment rates in PA, and help with the thousands of Pennsylvanians without health insurance (Notice I said statewide not just in Johnstown).

February 12, 2008 at 10:19 pm
(7) Kathy O. says:

I just heard about this during a newcast and had to look it up to see what the deal was. Amazing but sadly not surprising. I’m always suspicious of “discretionary” spending, and would like to know exactly what it’s been spent on for the last 60+ years. If it’s not going to be repealed (ha!), it should be acknowledged as a permanent tax and dedicated to something like statewide disaster relief.

May 14, 2008 at 11:50 pm
(8) SueJean says:

This “temporary” tax should be eliminated. The less money Harrisburg politicians receive, the less they can misspend, misuse, and squander.

August 25, 2008 at 5:32 pm
(9) Pete in PA says:

This is exactly why we should ALWAYS question tax increases. Our beloved government is always trying to reach in our pockets and take what we’ve worked hard to earn.

September 11, 2008 at 1:29 pm
(10) DJ says:

Hence the reason why I always stock up on wine when I visit DC. Wine is always more expensive in PA and now I know WHY!

February 25, 2009 at 4:04 pm
(11) DAVE says:


June 16, 2009 at 1:48 pm
(12) Joseph Scott says:

and now these filthy animals want to raise the income tax “for just 3 years”. rendell is a turd

June 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm
(13) Fast Eddie Spendell says:

What’s wrong with another temporary tax? I have so many great social programs to redistribute your wealth with….and I promise it’ll be temporary…just like the Johnstown Flood Tax.

December 17, 2010 at 2:00 am
(14) Joshua says:

Glenn Beck mentions this in his book “Arguing With Idiots”. I am not from PA but I’d like to let you residents know that it’s been raised twice since it’s “temporary” inception in 1936. Originally it was 10% I believe.

July 17, 2011 at 3:47 am
(15) jimpeel says:

“Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” — Dr. Milton Friedman, Nobel-Prize-winning economist.

August 25, 2011 at 7:08 am
(16) karen williams says:

I just read about the “temproary tax”, here in australia people winge about all sorts of temporary taxes what a joke when you poor buggers have been paying it for over 70 years. maybe I should let people here know about your temp. tax.

March 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm
(17) I need a drink says:

Pffft. The Johnstown Flood Tax is just in addition to the other taxes Pennsylvania adds to alcohol sales. On top of the 6% state sales tax (7% if you reside in Allegheny County), whatever the state pays for the bottle of booze, inclusive of the federal excise tax, it automatically marks up the price 30 percent. (Federal excise tax is a flat rate — $2.14 per 750 ml bottle for an 80 proof vodka, gin, rum or whisky. Excise taxes are much lower on wine — hard cider is 4 cents per 750 ml, 21 cents for most wines, up to 62 cents for fortified wines. There’s also a “small” excise tax on beer). Alas, Pennsylvanians are not alone. In most states, alcohol is heavily taxed, with a variety of sin, excise and sales taxes applied, making up 50 percent or more of the cost of wine and spirits by the time a customer is able to drink it.

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