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Policy: Technology

Big Ideas: On homelessness, strippers and 3D printing

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Taxes,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Technology,USPS,3D Printing,Magazine,Philadelphia,Homelessness

A report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty: With inadequate housing or shelter options, many homeless people are forced to live out of doors and in public places. Despite this fact, many local governments have chosen to remove visibly homeless people from our shared streets, parks and other public places by treating the performance of basic human behaviors -- like sitting down, sleeping and bathing -- as criminal activities.

These laws are often justified under the dubious theory that they are necessary to protect the public interest. Laws prohibiting sitting down on public sidewalks, for example, are allegedly warranted by the public's interest in unobstructed walkways. Sometimes, these laws are premised on the idea that criminalization is a necessary solution to homelessness because it makes it less likely that homeless persons will “choose” to live on the streets.

Most often, however, these laws are passed under the erroneous belief that using the criminal justice system to remove homeless persons from a city's commercial and tourist districts is the best method for improving the economic health of those areas. ...

Twenty-four percent of cities have city-wide bans on begging in public. This represents a 25 percent increase in such laws since 2011. ...

Of the cities surveyed for this report, our research reveals that: 53 percent of cities have laws prohibiting sitting or lying down in public. This represents a 43 percent increase in such laws since 2011.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF POLE TAX

Joseph Henchman for the Tax Foundation: If you buy something in Philadelphia, you pay a 8 percent sales tax (6 percent state plus 2 percent city). But if that something is an amusement (sporting event, theater performance, show, etc.), the state doesn't tax it although the city taxes it at 5 percent. Why such purchases should get preferential tax treatment is beyond me, but it's also led to disputes over what counts as an "amusement" and what doesn't.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's administration argued that lap dances performed at strip clubs count as an "amusement," and demanded $1.5 million in back taxes, interest and penalties from three strip clubs covering the years 2008 to 2010. Last October, the city's Tax Review Board said that the city's amusement tax ordinance did not cover lap dances, but the city persisted. On Wednesday, a state judge threw out the city's argument:

“The ruling is simply that the [tax] ordinance, as it exists, as it’s currently worded, doesn’t cover lap dances,” says attorney George Bochetto ... who represents two of the three clubs that were being taxed. “If the city wants to tax lap dances, they can go to City Council, ask City Council to amend the ordinance, and they can start imposing a tax on lap dances."

 

A NEW DIMENSION TO THE POST OFFICE'S STRUGGLES

Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell West for the Brookings Institution: New communication technologies have battered the business model of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) over the past decade. A new report from the USPS Office of Inspector General analyzes the prospects of a new innovative technology -- 3D printing -- for the future financial health of the agency. ...

The USPS is miles beyond its competitors in terms of its last-mile delivery network. The USPS delivers to 153 million addresses throughout the country, six days a week. 3D printing could increase shipping revenues for two main reasons. The first reason is greater demand for the shipment of 3D printed products. In addition, a new generation of makers will require the delivery of 3D printing supplies to their homes. The USPS stands to benefit from both scenarios.

Critically, the Postal Service also has more than 60 million square feet of unused strategically placed space. The USPS could partner with 3D printing firms to create manufacturing hubs. These unused Postal Service buildings are typically adjacent to shipping facilities and have the capacity to provide the necessary electrical power and ventilation. These partnerships could also provide a much-needed revenue boost to the USPS.

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