Schmoke pushes income tax rise Mayor rejects bottle tax or levy on sports tickets

April 26, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In a move that escalated already tense wrangling over the budget, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday flatly ruled out two alternatives floated by the City Council to counter his proposed income tax increase.

The mayor made clear he would not support an attempt by one of his key allies, Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, to revive the city's controversial bottle tax.

He was equally adamantly opposed to an idea of Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo to add $1 to every Baltimore Orioles and Ravens ticket, saying it would "really be a sign of bad faith" to suddenly impose the fee on the teams.

"There are things I don't think we should do," Mr. Schmoke said. "I think the increase I have proposed makes sense and it's in the long-range best interest of the city."

Under the mayor's proposal, the piggyback tax -- calculated as a percentage of the state income tax -- would increase from 50 percent to 55 percent.

Any tax increase is subject to City Council approval.

Mr. Schmoke is lobbying heavily for the increase, warning that without it the city would be forced to make severe cuts in library, museum and recreation services.

Last night, he pitched the increase to about 20 community association leaders in East Baltimore's 1st District. His message was simple: "Somebody is going to have to pay something if we are going to pay for these services."

Their reaction was cool. But some said they knew that the city needed more revenue.

"I think I understand the argument he presented," said Dottye Burt-Markowitz, president of the Southeast Community Organization. "But I'm not totally convinced" that an increase in the piggyback tax is needed, she said.

Mr. Schmoke has organized a series of meetings with nearly 800 community leaders this week, hoping a direct appeal will help counter growing council opposition to the proposed tax increase.

But Mr. Schmoke said last night that he doesn't expect opponents to be swayed immediately. He said that he will send letters to every taxpayer in the city, asking for support for his plan and do interviews on radio, television and with newspapers.

In the week since Mr. Schmoke announced his plan, several citizens groups have mounted vigorous campaigns against it, and council members have scrambled to find alternatives.

The increase would be the first change in the city's personal income tax rate since the piggyback tax was instituted in 1967. Ms. Dixon and others insist the financially strapped city can come up with another way to raise revenue.

Noting that Baltimore was the last jurisdiction in Maryland to tax disposable cans and bottles, Mr. Schmoke said he believes the council made the right decision to phase it out.

The council repealed the bottle tax instead of lowering the property tax rate last year after small shop owners complained they were losing business to the surrounding suburbs and residents demanded a chance to buy cheaper soda and beer.

"I don't think the case can be made for reinvigorating the container tax," Mr. Schmoke said. "Given the fact that the surrounding county no longer has the container tax, it put us at a real competitive disadvantage and it led to some loss of jobs."

But Ms. Dixon, who represents West Baltimore's 4th District, was disappointed by the mayor's stance, saying she's been flooded with calls from constituents angered by the mayor's push to increase the piggyback income tax.

"The calls I'm getting on this piggyback tax are not good calls," she said yesterday. "I think he should keep an open mind and listen to our constituency."

She said she would introduce two new proposals -- a levy on fountain sodas and draft beer and a tax on pinball machines and other amusement games.

The council has had two meetings this week with the mayor about the city budget. At their last meeting yesterday afternoon, council members emerged still unswayed about the need for the piggyback increase.

The increasingly hard-line positions of the mayor and council raise the specter of a replay of the budget brinkmanship in 1992 and 1993.

In December 1992 and in March 1993, the mayor proposed increasing the piggyback tax to 55 percent and 52 percent, respectively. But the proposals were never enacted because of stiff opposition from the council.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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