There was a time back in the ’90s that a portion of my nightly prayers were dedicated to asking God to make Dick Yuengling adopt me.* Such was the depth of my devotion to Yuengling Lager back in the day. It was church and everything else was just beer. It wasn’t just that Yuengling offered full-bodied flavor and a rich amber hue at a reasonable price in a marketplace monopolized by over-priced, piss-tinted corporate firewater. Yuengling represented the triumph of indie, proof that a small, family-owned brand tucked away in the mountainous redoubts of Pennsyltucky’s Coal Belt could take on the transnational corporate beer barons and not only hold its own, but grow up to be the largest American-owned brewer in the nation. And it only took 184 years!
But then three things happened that soured my love.
1. Dick Yuengling became a bit of a baron himself. In 2006, Dick Yuengling gave his employees a choice: your union or your job. “Read between the lines,” he told the assembled workforce in Pottsville, either vote to de-certify the union or he would move the brewery to one of those so-called “right to work” states in the Dirty South where workers’ rights pretty much begin and end with the right to shut the fuck up and jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton.
2. Dick’s arrogance seemed to grow in direct proportion with his burgeoning market share and his ballooning net worth, currently valued at upwards of one billion dollars. He recently declared that he wants to expand his operations and was looking to build a new brewery, possibly in western Pennsylvania. But if Harrisburg doesn’t lift the onerous business tax burden it places on the backs of businesses like Yuengling, he was going to build out of state, probably in one of those so-called “right to work” states in the Dirty South where workers’ rights pretty much begin and end with the right to shut the fuck up and jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton.
3. I discovered Stella Artois. (And you can too!)
Now comes news that Yuengling owes the city nearly $7 million in back Business Income and Receipts Taxes, or BIRT, according to a lawsuit the city filed against the brewer and made public earlier this week. The city reserves the right to slap the BIRT tax on anybody doing business in Philadelphia even if they are not based here. The suit claims Yuengling owes $4 million in BIRT taxes on beer sales in Philadelphia going back to 2008, when the cash-strapped city began assessing the admittedly-inconsistently-enforced tax on the brewer.
Yuengling ignored the tax notices, claiming it doesn’t have to pay because its wholesalers, distributors and retailers that own businesses in Philadelphia already pay the tax on Yuengling sales. The city vigorously disagrees, and so in addition to the $4 million in back taxes, Dick’s been slapped with nearly $2.7 million in penalties and interest.
“I think they’re trying to make an example out of us,” Dick Yuengling said during a radio interview on 1210 WPHT earlier this week. “I can’t believe they tax every pack of gum that comes into the city of Philadelphia.”
Oh Dick, believe it.
In fact, the city assesses the exact same BIRT tax on all the other brewers that sell their suds in Philadelphia. To the best of my knowledge, the city hasn’t had to sue them to get their money.
Ah, but here’s the rub. It’s not so much that Dick, an outspoken small-government conservative, disagrees with the taxes per se, it’s that he won’t cotton to the irresponsible way the the city spends those revenues—you know, on things like firemen and cops and schools and garbage collection and streets and drinking water.
“Government has spent more money than they have, and they’re just coming after everybody to try to tax them to recoup some of the inept spending that they’ve done,” he said.
Look at it this way, Dick, those schools babysit the kids so they don’t die before they grow up to be the adults who drink your beer. And those firemen? They put out the fiery car wrecks of people who’ve had too much of your beer before getting behind the wheel. And those cops? They have to clean up all the messes, felonious or otherwise, that trail behind the beer-fueled mayhem unleashed come last call. The garbage men pick up all those empties; the drinking water is for hydrating away that hangover or hosing the blood, piss and teeth from the sidewalks; and the streets are how you bring your blessed suds to town in the first place.
So don’t be a dick, Dick. Buck up and then pay up. Stop lecturing “big government” about irresponsible spending while you are privatizing profits and socializing costs. Philadelphia helped make you a spectacularly wealthy man. It costs a lot of money to keep Philadelphia open for business. Your business. So if you wanna dance in Philly, you gotta pay the piper. Just like everybody else.
Jonathan Valania is the editor-in-chief of Phawker.com.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t actually say my prayers at night but this sentence works better if you think I do.