During a little back and forth in the comments over on yellow pages industry cheerleader, Ken Clark’s blog, I tossed out the idea of taxing yellow pages companies a fee equivalent to what it costs municipalities to deal with the directories in the solid waste stream:
Ken, the yellow pages industry dumps a tax burden on local communities today. Perhaps the YP industry should offer to cover the cost of disposal of their books? Maybe that would accelerate the move to distribute the books to only those who still use them on a regular enough basis to warrant printing and distributing them?
As you can probably imagine, the idea of taxing the yellow pages industry in a way that covers the full cost of their litter was not met with open arms.
Great idea Ed. Let’s add another tax on to businesses that employs some 50,000+ people now and generates a $1 trillion in economic impact. It’s exactly that kind of thinking that has so many of us worried about the legislation that Congress is screwing around with on health care and cap-and-tax (trade).
What Ken seems to miss is that I’m not interested in taxing the industry. I’m interested in taxing the industry’s waste. The yellow pages industry currently sucks off the government’s teat in the form of subsidized waste disposal. It’s time for Ken and his yellow pages buddies to man up by covering the full cost of the waste they generate.
A tax that covers the cost of cleaning up the mess the yellow pages industry creates aligns the interests of communities with the industry. It says, “It’s okay if you dump your books here as long as you’ll pay to clean them up.” Cleaning up the mess a business creates seems like a pretty reasonable request.
In practice, what could this look like? Looking at the City of Minneapolis’ 2009 budget, it looks like $32.5 million was spent on solid waste (page 4 of this PDF). The YP industry has stated many times that the directories account for a measly 0.3% of the solid waste stream. If that’s the case, they would be taxed a measly $97,500 to cover the cost of cleaning up their mess. That’s actually quite reasonable, and goes to show how efficient our solid waste system is.
By reducing their directory deliveries by honoring opt-out lists, not spamming foreclosed homes, and cutting back on the bulk dumps on apartment buildings, the industry could surely reduce their self-created tax burden. They’d also save the money spent on printing and distributing the books in the first place.
Ken, I hope you can understand the difference between taxing a business and taxing a problem.
Rather than getting the government involved in solving such a common sense problem, perhaps the industry could proactively contribute to the solid waste departments of the communities it serves? A private solution to a public problem would be cheaper for everyone involved.