The City Council last night repealed the controversial beverage container tax but delayed action on legislation that would impose a surcharge on fees charged to remove solid waste from commercial establishments.
The 16-month-old container tax, at least in its current form, will end May 31.
The council last night wanted to repeal the container tax and give preliminary approval to the surcharge, which is called a recycling incentive fee.
The waste removal measure would add a 16 percent surcharge to the fees charged for hauling trash generated by businesses in the city. Finance officials say the levy would generate $6.5 million in revenue annually.
But strong opposition from the business sector at a council hearing yesterday forced the legislative body to delay a scheduled vote on the surcharge bill.
The Schmoke administration has included $6.9 million in container tax revenue in its proposed $2.05 billion fiscal 1992 budget.
Council members are considering other ways to replace the lost revenue from repeal of the container tax and reduce the amount of solid waste by encouraging recycling.
Mayor Kurt Schmoke warned yesterday that he will not sign the container tax repeal bill until the council finds substitute sources of revenue. The mayor must either sign or veto legislation within five regular council meetings after passage.
To generate new revenue, Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, last night introduced legislation that would add a wholesale distributor tax on various non-recyclable products that end up in city dumps.
The bill proposes to add $5 to the wholesale cost of vehicles and motorcycles sold in the city, $1 to the cost of car batteries and tires and $2 to large appliances such as refrigerators and kitchen stoves.
A key component of Ambridge's bill would retain the beverage container tax but at half its current rate, which is 2 cents for containers of 16 ounces or less and 4 cents for larger containers. If all the proposed taxes in the bill were adopted, it could generate $5.5 million in new revenue.
Before voting 13-6 to repeal the container tax, the council turned back attempts to table the measure and to make repeal effective June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Since the council was not in a mood to act on the surcharge bill, some members argued for a delay in repealing the container tax.
"We just need to have all of our options out on the table before so we can see more clearly what direction we should go," said Ambridge.
Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, D-3rd, urged that the container tax be repealed immediately and separated from Ambridge's bill "otherwise, our constituents and our businesses are going to look at these other measures as just another tax as opposed to serious efforts to deal with our waste problems."
And that is exactly what happened during yesterday's Policy and Planning Committee hearing where business owners and representatives of hospitals and hotels told council members that the recycling incentive fee amounts to little more than another tax.
"You're taxing me for something I can't do," said Steven George, owner of Haussner's Restaurant in Highlandtown. "Call it what it is -- a replacement tax for the container tax."
George said that he recycles cardboard and paper wastes at his restaurant. But, he said, the markets don't exist to recycle other garbage, so he throws it away.
"I think this is actually a sales tax on the removal service," said Franklin Goldstein, an attorney representing the Maryland Restaurant Association. "You can call it a recycling incentive fee, but it isn't. I really think calling this a recycling incentive is a joke."