Full house expected at public tax hearing

Nonprofit groups oppose planned energy levy

May 24, 2001|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

City officials are expecting a full house at City Hall this afternoon as the public gets a chance to openly oppose Mayor Martin O'Malley's plan to help balance his budget with an increase in city residents' income taxes and a new tax on nonprofit organizations' energy consumption.

"It should be crowded down there," said Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who is chairman of the City Council's Taxation Committee, which is conducting hearings today on the mayor's proposals.

"My office has been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from people against the energy tax proposal," said Mitchell, a West Baltimore Democrat.

In an effort to gain support, O'Malley met recently with opponents of his tax proposals, which call for a 20 percent boost in the city income tax and an expansion of the 8 percent energy tax -- now only assessed on commercial businesses -- to cover nonprofit groups, including churches.

After meeting with Cardinal William H. Keeler, Roman Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, a few weeks ago, O'Malley met with officials of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations and the Johns Hopkins University last week. He also is planning to meet soon with city church leaders, who have been among the most vocal opponents of the energy tax proposal.

Despite such efforts, opponents said this week that they haven't changed their minds and plan to pack the City Council's chambers. A hearing on the income tax proposal is scheduled for 2 p.m.. followed by the energy tax hearing.

"I'm hoping for some very strong testimony from a lot of people. We're not pulling any punches on this," said the Rev. William A. Au, pastor of SS Philip and James Roman Catholic Church. "All the major religious leadership is opposed to this."

It appears that City Council members, who must approve the mayor's proposal, aren't sold on the idea and might be willing to consider a compromise.

Councilman Robert W. Curran, vice chairman of the Taxation Committee, said yesterday that while he supports the idea of an energy tax on nonprofit groups, he thinks a "sunset" on the tax might be incorporated into the plan. The 8 percent tax could be reduced over a number of years or would remain in effect for four years and then be eliminated.

Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, said nonprofit organizations might be more willing to support such a short-term tax.

"Hopefully they'll stick with the city in this time of need," he said.

Sun staff writer Gady A. Epstein contributed to this article.

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