Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, who in 1989 sponsored legislation to create the city's beverage container tax, has announced he will seek repeal of that levy.
In making his intentions public at last night's City Council meeting, Landers angered many of his colleagues who wanted to avoid being put in the position of voting against a repeal with municipal elections coming up next year.
Landers, D-3rd, told the council that he would submit a bill next week to repeal the tax, enacted by the council in June 1989. Repeal would be effective Jan. 1, the date when a similar tax in Baltimore County ends.
"If the county container tax ends after Dec. 31 and ours continues, it would place business and consumers in the city at an unfair disadvantage," said Landers.
Both subdivisions enacted the tax in 1989 as an additional revenue source. It added 2 cents to the cost of beverages in glass or plastic containers of up to 16 ounces and 4 cents for those over 16 ounces. The tax does not apply to milk or juices.
The city's budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 1991, includes $6 million in expected container tax revenues.
Landers' announcement ended an intense day-long effort by most council members to persuade him not to even bring up the subject at last night's council meeting.
Council members had hoped to use the time between last night and next Monday's meeting to quietly persuade Landers not to introduce the bill at all.
"He told us he wasn't going to bring it up tonight," said a seething Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st. "We haven't been under any pressure to end the tax. If and when we get pressure, then we deal with it. We need the revenue until we can find an alternative source."
Schaefer, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, suggested that Landers may be trying to boost his expected campaign for city comptroller.
"Maybe labor and the beverage industry would look favorably towards him if he took the lead on this," Schaefer said.
Landers said his as-yet-unannounced candidacy for the comptroller's office had absolutely nothing to do with his intention to introduce the repeal measure.
Councilwoman Jacqueline F. McLean, D-2nd, who has announced she is running for comptroller, called Landers' proposed bill "a voodoo measure."
Ending the tax in the middle of the fiscal year, McLean said, would mean a loss of about $3.5 million, "which could mean the layoff of 165 police officers or the layoff of 149 teachers. It could mean the end of bulk trash pickups, the end to recycling. This is fiscal irresponsibility."
Councilwoman Rochelle Rikki Spector, D-5th, said Landers was inviting controversy by announcing his intentions on the floor, "knowing we didn't want him to."
"They just didn't want me to raise the issue at all in the hopes that no one would notice that we would still have the tax until after the county's tax was gone," said Landers.
"I, for one, feel that we need to address the problem of what to do about the tax now and not stick our heads in the sand and wait until consumers or business interests kick us in the rear and demand that we so something," added Landers.
But Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the City and County councils were on a well-charted course to tie the elimination of the container tax with a substitute levy that would not single out one industry.
"And Jody knew that because he served as co-chair of the Joint City-County Task Force on Waste Stream Management," Clarke
That task force recently presented its report to both councils in which it recommended, among other things, alternatives such as broadening the tax to include other industries whose products contribute to the waste stream.
The tax helps local governments pay for collection or reducing the amount of waste through recycling.
Clarke said she will try to offset Landers' bill by introducing her own legislation next week that would automatically end the container tax upon enactment of a substitute levy.
And, Schaefer said today he would introduce legislation next week to end the tax on June 30, 1991, the end of the current fiscal year.
The city's container tax law had a June 30, 1990, sunset provision. But the council voted in June to eliminate that provision.
Several council members said Clarke was angry because she was able to get a consensus among council members to eliminate the sunset provision by assuring them they wouldn't have to vote on the tax again until after next year's municipal elections.