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Can they live with change?

July 16, 2009 - Rob Weaver
A wire-service story out of Cincinnati revealed a new strategy to use taxes to eliminate a public nuisance. A member of Cincy's city council wants to require beggars to get a permit and -- get this -- pay the local earnings tax.

According to the councilman, Jeff Berding, says panhandlers are earning money, just like the vendors hawking peanuts outside Great American Ball Park. I presume a peanut vendor must have a permit and pay a tax on earnings.

The wire story says Berding “argues that people asking for change on the streets are making a living.” I doubt that's a great choice of words, unless Queen City residents are extremely generous to street beggars.

Actually, his idea isn't a desperate attempt to boost Cincinnati's coffers. It is an attempt to regulate commerce, if begging for change can be considered a commercial activity. Berding proposes restricting the number of panhandler permits (and thus, panhandlers) and the times and places they could beg.

I can't help but wonder whether the permits would be transferable. It would be interesting to see whether a market for panhandler permits would develop. A sort of street-corner cap-and-trade.

My hope is the councilman suggested this because he wants to get a handle on — as in, sequester — panhandling. My fear is he is preparing for the new American economy.


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