Schmoke vetoes the repeal of beverage container tax Mayor's action keeps controversial container levy on city's books.

May 30, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

As expected, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke today vetoed legislation that would have repealed the controversial beverage container tax by midnight tomorrow.

The mayor had included $6.9 million in revenues from the tax in his proposed 1992 fiscal year budget that went to the City Council last week.

Schmoke said he had little choice but to veto the repealer bill because the council failed to come up with revenues to replace the $6.9 million anticipated from the container tax.

After receiving the repealer bill, which passed the council by a 13-6 vote, the mayor had five regularly scheduled council meetings to take some action on the measure or it automatically became law. That deadline would have been up this Monday.

Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, chairman of the budget and appropriations committee, said he doubts seriously if 15 votes can be found to override the mayor's veto.

At the same time he vetoed the bill, Schmoke said the council might consider keeping the container tax but at half its current rate, which is 4 cents for containers larger than 16 ounces and 2 cents for containers 16 ounces and smaller.

That would generate about $3.45 million annually. To make up the difference between the budgeted $6.9 million, the mayor said, the council has several other revenue proposals now pending before it.

Those measures include:

* A bill that would either impose a surcharge on top of the tipping fees commercial trash haulers pay at the city's landfill and incinerators or a fee imposed on the cost of hauling trash from commercial trash generators such as shopping centers.

The council has been at odds over to which end of the commercial solid waste chain to attach the fee.

* A bill that would add a wholesale tax on certain non-recyclable products such as vehicle tires and batteries and major appliances like refrigerators and stoves.

The council has had both revenue measures for more than a month but has decided not to move on them until after it reviews the administration's 1992 budget, a process that will begin next Tuesday.

The council initially passed the beverage container tax in June 1989 to find revenue to help it cut the city's property tax rate. The council succeeded in shaving 5 cents off the rate, which lowered it to $5.95 per each $100 of assessed value. The container tax, however, did not go into effect until December of that year and the legislation that enacted the tax carried a sunset provision ending the levy on June 30, 1990.

The sunset provision coincided with one in Baltimore County, where an identical container tax was also approved by the Baltimore County Council.

In June of 1990, the City Council voted to repeal the sunset provision. Under extreme pressure from the beverage industry and organized labor, the County Council, however, agreed to extend its sunset provision to Dec. 31, 1990. The county tax ended on that date.

The beverage industry then turned its attention on the City Council. Last fall, Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, III, D-3rd, introduced a bill to repeal the city's container tax on Dec. 31, 1990. That was followed by a bill from Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, to end the tax on June 30, 1991.

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