State Sen. John Wozniak should think bigger with his proposal on designating a portion of the proceeds from the Johnstown Flood Tax for disaster relief.
It's time to save all of the flood tax revenue for a rainy day.
Wozniak, D-Johnstown, is among those suggesting that the state designate one-fifth of the money from the flood tax to a fund that could be used for disaster relief. The Johnstown Flood Tax on alcohol sales was instituted after the 1936 flood to rebuild the city.
That work was completed decades ago, but lawmakers intoxicated by the free-flowing revenue from the tax kept it in place and even increased it from 10 to 18 percent in the 1960s.
Efforts to repeal the tax in 2001 and 2003 failed.
The tax generates about $200 million a year, which goes into the General Fund.
"It's time to recognize that natural disasters are a fact of life in Pennsylvania, and we should be prepared," Wozniak said in a press release. "This will be a Real Rainy Day Fund that will allow us to act quickly the next time nature overwhelms local communities."
Certainly preparing for disasters is a laudable goal, and since it seems likely Pennsylvania will remain stuck with the flood tax, designating a portion of it to respond to weather occurrences has merit. But this still means $160 million annually from the tax will be going for other purposes.
That's where Wozniak's current proposal falls short in terms of preparedness. Why not designate all of the money from the flood tax for rainy days?
Just as flooding from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have shown the need for a disaster response fund, the recent recession and the sluggish economy have demonstrated that more is needed to prepare for economic cataclysms.
That's why legislators should consider earmarking all Johnstown Flood Tax proceeds for rainy days with one-fifth in an account for natural disasters and the rest going into the state's already established Rainy Day Fund to help maintain services during tough times.
The experience over the past decade shows that Pennsylvania's rainy day fund has been short of what's needed to tide the state over during economic turmoil.
Designating about $160 million annually from the flood tax plus the already established 25 percent of any state surplus at the end of the fiscal year to the rainy day fund could go a long way to boosting those reserves.
That would put Pennsylvania in a better position to respond quickly to natural calamities and weather economic downturns, which is comprehensive disaster preparation.