Bottle bill leads to council bickering

November 06, 1990|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The introduction last night of two bills to repeal Baltimore's beverage-container tax caused City Council bickering over the controversial levy for the second week in a row.

Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, submitted legislation last night that would end the tax by June 30, 1991, the end of the current fiscal year. His bill received the number 1151.

Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, D-3rd, introduced another bill calling for the tax to end on Dec. 31, when a similar tax in Baltimore County is set to expire. His bill received the number 1155.

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.

Schaefer and Landers said they are concerned that city businesses and consumers could be hurt if the city continues its container tax after Baltimore County lifts its levy.

Schaefer, however, said the city needs the revenue from the container tax that has already been budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Schaefer, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, said that if the city collects the $6 million in container tax revenues it has budgeted for the entire fiscal year by the third quarter, he would offer an amendment to his bill ending the tax on March 31.

Landers said he was miffed that Schaefer's bill was slated ahead his on the agenda when his bill was put in the hopper first. He said Council President Mary Pat Clarke did it to slap his wrist because he sparked the first heated debate on the tax at last week's council meeting.

Landers ignored pleas from his colleagues, especially Clarke, last week not to bring up on the floor any mention of the container tax. They were hoping to either talk him out of introducing his bill or to get a substitute bill in first.

Many council members accused Landers of political posturing to aid his race for city comptroller. Landers said that had no influence on his decision to talk about the tax.

Clarke acknowledged that she deliberately placed Schaefer's bill ahead of Landers'.

"It is true I am concerned about seeing legislation that would strip us of revenue in the midst of a fiscal year and Councilman Landers was aware of that concern," said Clarke. "It is the prerogative of the agenda maker [Clarke] to indicate on the agenda which bill is pre-eminent in her mind."

Schaefer and Landers called on each other to withdraw their respective bills. Both declined.

Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, chairman of the Taxation and Finance Committee, which will hold hearings on the bills, said which measure came first will make no difference because he is likely to hold a simultaneous hearing on both.

In other action last night, the council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would mandate four-man work crews on all city fire equipment.

The bill was introduced last June by Councilman Joseph T. DiBlasi, D-6th, after the Schmoke administration said the work crews would be reduced to three because of manpower shortages.

Peter Marudas, aide to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said last night the mayor opposes the bill because it would interfere with the fire chief's ability to run the department.

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