Change in waste taxes planned Container tax hearing rejected

November 13, 1990|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Two City Council members are preparing to introduce legislation that would replace the beverage-container tax with taxes on other throw-away products.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, said they will introduce bills next week designed to encourage recycling and reduce the amount of city money used to sort solid waste.

Their proposals, suggested by a joint city/county task force on solid waste, would:

* Create a $10-a-ton disposal charge on solid waste taken to landfills, incinerators and transfer facilities. The charge, or "tipping fee," is expected to generate $8 million in revenue a year.

* Levy a distributor tax on the most common bulk items found in solid waste, including $15 on motor vehicles sold in the city, $2 on major kitchen and laundry appliances, and $1 on motor vehicle batteries and tires. This would raise an estimated $1.2 million a year.

* Send the General Assembly a resolution urging enactment of a statewide litter tax on products that contribute to litter in the streets. Revenue from this tax would be redistributed to the subdivisions.

Clarke and Ambridge want to see the revenue from new taxes replace the revenue from the container tax in the city's 1992 fiscal year budget.

In another tax-related issue at last night's meeting, the council defeated an attempt to schedule a hearing on legislation to end the container tax by Dec. 31, dealing that bill a serious, if not fatal, setback.

By a vote of 9-6, with three members not voting, the council last night rejected a normally routine request to suspend a council rule that would have allowed a hearing on the container tax bill to be scheduled for Dec. 6.

The council is scheduled to recess Dec. 10 for the holidays and not reconvene until after Jan. 1. The bill to end the container tax on Dec. 31 was introduced Nov. 5 by Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, D-3rd. At the same time, Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, put in a measure to end the tax next June 30, when the fiscal year ends.

Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, chairman of the committee that will hear both container tax bills, last night tried to suspend a council rule that requires committee chairmen to receive reports on legislation from all pertinent city agencies before announcing a hearing.

The council routinely suspends that rule, but, when Murphy made a motion to suspend it for both bills, Clarke urged the members to vote the motion down.

"This is too important a bill to move on until all agency reports are in and we have enough information to study the serious impact this bill would have on the budget," Clarke said.

The city's $1 billion budget for fiscal 1991 includes $6 million in revenue from the beverage container tax. If the tax is ended on Dec. 31, the middle of the fiscal year, it would create a deficit of about $3 million.

Landers said the tax should end when a similar tax is set to expire in Baltimore County on Dec. 31, so city businesses and consumers don't face an unfair burden.

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 juice containers.

City agencies have 30 days from receipt of legislation to submit reports. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who appoints agency heads and could influence when those reports go out, has said he opposes Landers' bill.

If the agencies take 30 days, Murphy would not be able to announce a hearing until Dec. 6.

That would force Murphy to hold a hearing Dec. 7 or Dec. 10 and bring a bill out for both a preliminary vote and a final vote on Dec. 10. Taking two votes at the same council meeting also would require a suspension of the rules.

Clarke said the council's vote underscores the serious budgetary consequences of Landers' bill. And she indicated she would see to it that Murphy can't suspend the rule and announce a hearing date before the agency reports are submitted.

"If he wants to announce a hearing soon, let him call the agencies and get them to submit their reports right away," Clarke said.

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