Flood Tax Should Pay for Flooding

ACORN Environment

Philadelphia         Another Saturday and it’s another training day with community-based organizations and members of the Anthropocene Alliance with ACORN.  Groups came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland, so there were numerous perspectives on social and environmental issues.

We were meeting in the old ACORN building on Broad Street.  Decades ago, we used to say, “sometime this building is going to be worth something.”  It was hard for some to believe.  It was next to an old abandoned opera house and across the street from a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Pep Boys auto store.  Donuts and auto supplies are still there, but the opera house is now a fancy, popular music venue seating thousands.  There is a new apartment/condo thing two doors down.  Our building is three stories with two serviceable, but the rumors are that it’s now worth a million dollars.  Someday seems about now.

We had broken into groups to sketch out campaign development based on an exercise on flooding and insurance rates.  One group reported on how they would target the EPA and the Corps of Engineers.  The other group looked at the impact on insurance rates for home and flood coverage, where the targets might be the insurance commissioners in these states and their ability to hold insurance companies accountable.  The commissioners in both Maryland and Pennsylvania were appointed, rather than elected like Louisiana’s commissioner, so campaign leverage didn’t exist at the ballot box, but there might be opportunities to pressure the governor when appointments arose in the coming year.  One of our groups was concerned about new developments being allowed on maps that had been politically fudged with pressure on FEMA to allow construction on the flood plain where the complex had also been relieved of any requirement to have flood coverage, all of which seemed like hanky-panky politics.

One thing led to another in the discussion as we discussed research that might link insurance rates and flooding, and one of our number mentioned that there was such a thing in Pennsylvania as the Johnstown Flood Tax, which is imposed on all alcohol purchases in 1936 to assist in the recovery.  According to Wikipedia, “In 1951, the tax was made permanent, becoming the state liquor tax, with funds no longer earmarked for costs related to the flood.”  Google informed us that the tax had risen from 8% in the beginning to 18% now, all of which ends up in the Pennsylvania general fund.

You can just hear the gears grinding, right?  Why isn’t a tax inspired by a climate catastrophe then, which is all too common now, really being used to prevent flooding, subsidize flood insurance, and meet the challenges of climate change in that state?

You never know what you might stumble onto when organizers get together and start brainstorming about campaigns.  You can even imagine the slogan for environmentalists:  Fight Global Warming, Drink More!