End of the bottle tax

April 17, 1991

Ever since the 1990 legislature made Baltimore County's bottle tax illegal, it has been a foregone conclusion that sooner or later the city would have to back down, too. Later would have been better than sooner.

In a preliminary vote Monday, the City Council voted to repeal the tax on May 30. The ostensible reason, promulgated by the bottling industry, is that a bottle of Coke that costs 2 cents more here puts city merchants at a competitive disadvantage. There is ample room for debate on that score. But it is a red herring. The city enacted the bottle tax for one simple reason -- it needed the money. And unlike the county, whose property tax rate is half what it is here -- the city had very few other options. The bottle tax was easier to swallow when Baltimore County enacted the tax, too. But the fact remains, the tax generates about $6 million a year -- and cash-starved Baltimore desperately needs it.

The council's enthusiasm to jump aboard the anti-bottle tax bandwagon comes at a time when Baltimore does not yet have an alternative in place. The council is scheduled to vote next week on a trash disposal fee. But it is not clear if that would raise enough money to compensate for the loss of the bottle tax.

Nonetheless, now that council has made repeal a virtual certainty, the chief concern of the city must be the expedient passage of a lucrative trash tax that allows few -- if any -- exemptions. If the council knuckles under to special-interest pressures now, the long-term fiscal integrity of the city will have been compromised by the trade-off.

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