From the Publisher The Billboard Beauty Tax

Do we need a little extra cash for the Olympic bid? Here’s where to get it.

BILLBOARDS ARE UGLY. THEY RUIN THE only natural asset of a city built on the plains-its wide and far-reaching horizon. Texas is the country of the big sky. now interrupted by advertising messages thrust on us involuntarily by giant erecTions on our highways.

The City Council, as we have argued, can and should ban the construction of any new billboards. Houston banned them years ago, as did Piano and most other Dallas suburbs. But to tear their existing monstrosities down is prohibitively expensive under the law. The city would have to reimburse the billboard companies for their lost revenues over the expected life of their steel-framed constructions, which could be as long as 20 years.

The mayor says the city may need to commit public money to back up the Olympic bid. I have an idea. Instead of paying the billboard companies to dismantle their signs, let’s require that they pay us for the privilege of”keeping them. Billboards on the Tollway can cost advertisers as much as $10,000 a month. Other locations bring in between $2,500 to $5,000 a month.

A tax rate of $2,500 to $1,000 a month, depending on location, seems fair. By our best estimate, 10,000 billboards now litter our roads and highways in Dallas. At an average tax of $1,500 a month, this new revenue stream would produce $ 180 million a year. If we dedicated the tax to the cost of hosting the Olympics, the billboard kitty would amount to $2.2 billion by 2012.

Of course, it might not get quite that high. Billboard companies might decide to abandon marginally profitable sites. But that’s the point: to get rid of billboards.

Is such a tax fair? Of course it’s fair. Taxes lave been used as weapons of social policy since the beginning of the Republic. The Founders’ generation imposed tariffs on certain imported goods to encourage their domestic production. Congress has imposed so-called sin taxes on cigarettes and liquor for decades. Taxes send a message: These goods may be legal, but as a matter of social policy, we want them to be expensive to discourage their use.

The city has the same right to use taxes to encourage policies that are good and to discourage activities that are bad. Enterprise zones and tax abatements are two examples of weapons the city employs to encourage positive action, such as relocating a business to a distressed area. The city can use bhe same weapon to discourage an activity that degrades the environment, costs it new corporate relocations, and offends its citizens. Not only should the City Council ban new construction of billboards, it should impose stiff taxes on existing billboards. These “wages of sin” can then go into creating something beautiful and good, the Dallas Games. The billboard companies certainly won’t mind profiting from the Olympic economic bonanza. So, dedicate their new taxes to paying for it.



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Homebuilding, homebuying, and home remodeling continue to set records in Dallas, and our readers tell us they’re eager for every bit of information we can get them on home decor. When our readers speak, we listen. In March we introduce the premier issue of Dallas Home, just in time for spring decorating and gardening. Dallas’ latest magazine will be available on newsstands and in local gardening shops, home furnishings stores, and specialty retailers.

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