City bottle tax vote postponed

Calls for 4-cent levy on soda, beer, water

May 17, 2010|By Liz F. Kay and Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

The City Council is delaying its vote on a proposed 4-cent tax on certain beverage bottles — a measure that has sparked industry opposition — to develop a broader package of revenue-generating proposals.

"The council wanted to slow down and consider the total scope of all these [revenue-generating] packages," said Lester Davis, a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. After postponing a vote on the tax, originally scheduled for Monday night, "They're going to look at a collective package of revenue enhancers as opposed to one source of revenue." Davis said.

If enacted, the tax would be levied on containers for soda, beer and water, but not milk or juice bottles. It was among the taxes in Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's budget plan for the 2010-2011 year, and is expected to bring in $11 million — a welcome sum for city officials facing a $121 million budget shortfall.

But store owners and beverage bottlers and distributors have opposed the tax, saying it will drive customers to surrounding counties. Ads opposing the tax, mentioning Rawlings-Blake by name, have run on the air and in print, and the campaign has spread its message via Twitter and Facebook.

Rob Santoni, owner of Santoni's Super Market in Highlandtown and a leader of the opposition to the bottle tax, said he'll continue to fight the proposal. He said it would hurt consumers and small businesses such as his.

"We'll keep fighting it, as we've been doing since Day 1," he said.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor, would not comment on the council's procedural move. But he said all the proposed sources of revenue were needed to prevent cuts to crucial city services and positions, including police and firefighters.

"This budget gap is the worst in city history," O'Doherty said. "The mayor made a proposal that included several revenue measures and this was one, an important one. We're confident we need what was proposed."

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