Council stops bills to raise city taxes Baltimore panel votes against raising rates as Schmoke proposed

June 04, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Making its anti-tax sentiment official, the Baltimore City Council voted overwhelmingly last night to kill a series of tax increases proposed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and one of its own members.

Voted down were proposals by Schmoke to raise the city's income tax rate and eliminate a long-standing exemption to local energy taxes enjoyed by nonprofit organizations.

Also killed were alternative measures proposed by 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon that would have revived a bottle tax and imposed new levies on grocery bags and paper and plastic coffee and soda cups.

Three other pending tax bills never made it out of committee, making it extremely unlikely that they will be passed before the council adjourns for the summer next week. They include a proposal by Schmoke to increase the parking tax; one by Dixon to tax money spent on video games; and one by 1st District Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. for a $1 surcharge on professional sports tickets.

The depth of the council's feelings about raising taxes was demonstrated dramatically by the vote totals. Not one of the measures voted on last night received a single yea vote, with even Dixon voting against the very measures she introduced.

"Nobody wants taxes raised," said 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley, whose Taxation and Finance Committee gave unfavorable reports on all the bills.

Only Schmoke's proposal to raise the city's income tax received a modicum of muted support. The proposal was defeated by a 10-0 vote, with the other nine council members electing to pass rather than go on record as supporting a tax increase or defying the administration.

Of those nine, only one spoke up for the idea. "I have mixed emotions," said 4th District Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch. "I know how much money we need [but] I know people don't like a tax."

Last night's council action seemingly draws to a close the 6-week-old tax debate that began when Schmoke proposed a 10 percent raise in the city's income levy along with his budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

But it also may jeopardize the council's desire to restore $4.6 million in budget cuts, including reductions of $3 million to the Department of Recreation and Parks, $300,000 for cultural programs and another $300,000 in student art scholarships.

Although the council can only cut and not add to the budget, some members were hopeful they could persuade Schmoke to accept alternative cuts that they hope to identify this week. The council is to consider the budget Thursday.

But administration officials said the mayor, who is in Turkey attending a United Nations conference on cities, is insistent that he will not put that money back into the budget without some sort of tax increase. "He will not restore cuts without revenue enhancements. That's the bottom line," said Vera P. Hall, Schmoke's liaison to the City Council.

BTC The $4.6 million is not a part of a revenue gap that the various tax proposals were initially designed to close.

Last week, Schmoke and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III reached an agreement that would close a gap of $4.9 million.

Under that agreement, most of the money would come from redirecting $3.2 million in surplus fire and police pension funds from the city's rainy-day reserves to the operating budget.

The remaining $1.7 million needed to close the gap would come from cutting $1 million in the city's self-insurance fund; $250,000 in money for the Convention Center and a mayoral contingency fund; and $200,000 from the Law Department, according to details released yesterday.

Also, a promised $2 million loan to the Columbus Center to help the facility open an exhibit hall would be cut in half. The savings would be used to increase the appropriation for payouts for accumulated leave for employees who sign up for an early retirement plan designed to eliminate hundreds of city jobs by the end of the year, easing pressures on agencies to come up with the money.

In other action last night, the council gave final approval to the creation of a privately-financed public authority to administer after-school programs for children.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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