Trashing the City

May 02, 1991

If you want to know why Baltimore is in such sad shape, take a look at how the City Council killed the container tax -- even before it had come up with an alternative revenue source. Rather than devising a thoughtful and comprehensive plan to deal with municipal finances, the City Council is preoccupied with half-baked, stop-gap measures. This may be typical election-year jockeying to win the favor of special-interest groups, but it is so brazen it is shameful.

Consider this: Late last week, the council hastily concocted a "recycling incentive surcharge" to replace the current tipping fee. Under the proposal, commercial haulers would levy that surcharge on all unrecyclable waste collected from such garbage generators as restaurants, hospitals and high-rise office buildings in the city.

There is nothing wrong with this concept. In fact, this kind of fee could dramatically decrease commercial use of landfills. It would force restaurateurs, for instance, to recycle their discarded glass bottles and aluminum beer cans. Such recyclers exist. But one link in the chain is missing -- small-scale hauling businesses that would collect those materials at restaurants and take them to recycling plants. A surcharge might hatch such a new industry.

However, a public hearing Monday suggested that the surcharge bill, as presently constituted, is filled with inconsistencies and other problems. Some of those problems are due to the haste with which the measure was drafted. Others are due to the bill's misdirected intention. Despite its name, it is not a recycling incentive but a revenue generator. Its primary goal is to fill the $6.5 million shortfall caused by the termination of the controversial, 16-month-old container tax.

Consequently, when the bill's council sponsors realized that a 10 percent surcharge on commercial waste would fail to generate that amount, they simply upped the surcharge to an onerous 16 percent. This is the inane way the City Council does business.

Since the container tax will be dead May 31 and the surcharge bill is up in the air, Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge came up with yet another revenue-raiser. He wants to continue the container tax, but at half its current rate. He also wants wholesale distributors to collect a tax on various non-recyclable goods that may end up in city dumps. The tax would be $5 for vehicles and motorcycles sold in the city, $1 for car batteries and tires and $2 for large appliances such as refrigerators and kitchen stoves.

The kitchen sink will be next, if this nickel-and-diming continues.

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