Can Operators of Off-Street Parking Lots Seek to Invalidate a Tax on Parking Fees Collected by Private Lot Owners ?
In Pittsburgh v. Alco Parking Corp., 417 U.S. 369, 94 S. Ct. 2291, 41 L. Ed. 2d 132 (1974), operators of off-street parking lots sought to invalidate a tax on parking fees collected only by the private lot owners and not on parking spaces owned by the public parking authority.
Pennsylvania's Supreme Court invalidated the tax deeming it unreasonably high and concluding that, inasmuch as the private operators faced price competition from the publicly subsidized parking authority lots, "where such an unfair competitive advantage accrues, generated by the use of public funds, to a local government at the expense of private property owners, without just compensation, a clear constitutional violation has occurred." Alco Parking Corp. v. City of Pittsburgh, 453 Pa. 245, 267, 307 A.2d 851, 863 (1972), rev'd, 417 U.S. 369, 94 S. Ct. 2291, 41 L. Ed. 2d 132 (1974).
The United States Supreme Court soundly rejected this conclusion, stating:
We cannot agree that these two considerations, either alone or together, are sufficient to invalidate the parking tax ordinance.
The claim that a particular tax is so unreasonably high and unduly burdensome as to deny due process is both familiar and recurring, but the Court has consistently refused either to undertake the task of passing on the reasonableness of a tax that otherwise is within the power of Congress or of state legislative authorities, or to hold that a tax is unconstitutional because it renders a business unprofitable.
We are not convinced that the ordinance loses its character as a tax and may be stricken down as too burdensome under the Due Process Clause if the taxing authority, directly or through an instrumentality enjoying various forms of tax exemption, competes with the taxpayer in a manner thought to be unfair by the judiciary.
This approach would demand not only that the judiciary undertake to separate those taxes that are too burdensome from those that are not, but also would require judicial oversight of the terms and circumstances under which the government or its tax-exempt instrumentalities may undertake to compete with the private sector.
The clear teaching of prior cases is that this is not a task that the Due Process Clause demands of or permits to the judiciary. 417 U.S. at 373, 376.