Some may not think about it much any longer, but what is the
Regional Asset District? No real
'region' in it. The RAD is a
semi-autonomous entity that collects a 1% supplemental sales tax only on
eligible purchases only in Allegheny County. Nowhere else in the region is impacted; so region with a small 'r' I guess. The RAD itself and the tax has not been around all that long having been implemented following a
contentious public debate in the early 1990s. The tax
itself went into effect in 1994 based on enabling legislation that first passed
in Harrisburg and then with the support of a majority of the county
commissioners that ran county government here at the time.
The whole idea of the RAD however was a culmination of a decades long process that started long before it finally came into being. For more on that history read: Pittsburgh: a regional city with a local tax bas
e, though I would argue it all connects to earlier debates on local public finance and debates in the 1950's that lead to to the creation of the city's earned income (or wage) tax and also to some of the earlier attempts at the creation of an Allegheny County Home Rule Charter
.... before the version that finally came into being later in the 1990's only after the RAD was created.
Back when it when the new tax was being debated
it was big news. The core of the debate
was what would happen to retail firms and sales in Allegheny County. Would everyone flood out of the county to
make their routine and large purchases.
Would retail biz in the county collapse as a result of the extra tax
that could be escaped by a short ride in most any direction? It was a very real question and very much expected by many.
What really gets me a bit is that around here there is just
no follow up to anything. Lots of debate
at the time looking at what the future impact of what the RAD would be, but
nobody every bothers to look back once there is real data to look at. So what happened? Did Allegheny County become a retail
wasteland because of the RAD tax? It is not that hard a thing to check.
Before looking some pesky data we now have, what do we know
about what happened to the retail sector within Allegheny County in the decade
following the implementation of the RAD sales tax? Maybe a few new retail confabs have come into
existence and thrived. Waterfront, South
Side Works, Pittsburgh Mills, virtually all of the retail paroxysm otherwise known
as Robinson.. Folks new to the region
may not even realize that just a few years ago most all of that was completely
undeveloped land. Like all of it. No
mall, nothing. Sure seems like retail has just withered in the years following the implementation of the RAD tax. Back before the RAD there was regular discussion about how under-retailed the county was. I don't hear that much any longer.
For those who want to argue the point. Argue with the data. Here is the total value of retail sales by
county within the Pittsburgh MSA. This
data is from the Census Bureau's quinquennial Economic Census if you want to check the numbers. I pulled the values for
1992, just before the RAD was implemented, and for 2007 which is the latest available. Note that the values are
nominal values and there has been inflation over 15 years. So I calculated the
growth in total retail sales by county, but also added up the cumulative sales
and change for the 6 suburban counties.
Given the prognostications on what impact the RAD tax would have to
have, you would at the very least expect Allegheny County to trail growth in the suburban counties. When you add in the fundamental fact that
population in the suburban counties has fared a lot better than the decline for Allegheny County
over that period you would expect Allegheny County's retail sector to trail the suburbs by much more. You would expect a lot of retail sales to follow patterns in residential migration... RAD tax or
But... that's why we bother to count:
||Retail Industry Total