11 November 2011

Baltimore's Bottle Tax: Did you REALLY think they would stop at Two Cents?

Contrary to the opinion some folks out there must have of me, I'm not one of those anti-tax activists who thinks the income tax is illegal and unconstitutional.  Nor am I one of the folks that say "No taxes, nohow, no way!"  I've even made a case recently for an increase in the highway gas tax, provided the monies raised went strictly to highway infrastructure (fat chance).

But when the Baltimore City Council and mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proposed a two-cent bottle tax in Baltimore, I had my reservations. My major problem?  Government has shown it can't be trusted.  Give them an inch, they'll yank it to a foot.  Concede that foot to them, and they'll take a yard.  Let 'em have the yard, and they'll demand a league.  Surrender to the league, and they'll demand a chain.

Can we say "I Told You So!" yet?:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has announced plans to increase the city bottle tax from 2 cents to 5 cents.  She plans to ask City Council to consider the measure Monday, according to 11 News reporter David Collins.
The mayor said funds generated by the increase would go toward school construction and renovation. Critics, meanwhile, contend the idea is irresponsible and may be necessary because of poor decision making at City Hall.The 2-cent tax took effect in July 2010, but the 11 News I-Team reported last month that it fell short of achieving expectations in its first year.

City officials estimated the tax would bring in $5.8 million a year. It generated $4.7 million in its first year.  Rawlings-Blake announced the proposal for a 5-cent tax two days after she was elected to what will be her first full term as mayor.  [emphasis added] “We were looking for ways, creative ways to really put more resources into school construction,” she said. “If you take a look at some of our schools around the city, and you know our kids deserve more, we think this is a way to help us get there.”  School administrators are still looking into how much money is needed, Collins said. A recent study put the figure at $2.8 billion, Collins reported Thursday.
Increasing the bottle tax to 5 cents would generate about $10.2 million. The money, combined with other dedicated school construction funds, would enable the city to sell bonds to help pay for the improvements.
But the tax increase needs approval from City Council and is expected to face stiff opposition from the beverage industry and business.
Rob Santoni of Santoni Markets estimates that the 2-cent tax has cost his business a half-million dollars in sales, along with seven jobs.“  (Customers) say ‘I'm done,’ so they just go out into the counties and do their shopping,” Santoni said.  Upon hearing about the 5-cent proposal, Santoni said: “Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continues to demonstrate an outright disrespect for Baltimore businesses. Mocking our industry like this, in my opinion, is somewhat of an abuse of power."
Current bottle tax revenue, which is scheduled to end after three years, was supposed to go to street cleaning and other public works projects. Under the increase, the funds would be used for schools.“(We are) fully committed to finding a way to speed up the pace of school construction so we can make sure the facilities match the greatness of our kids,” Rawlings-Blake said.
More from Patch.com:
Councilman Bill Henry, who opposed the initial 2-cent bottle tax, told Patch on Thursday the only way he can see the mayor getting a bill increasing the bottle tax through the council this session is by amending legislation already submitted by Councilwoman Belinda Conaway that was meant to bring the bottle tax to an end sooner.
Henry said he questioned whether or not such an amendment to the bill would violate a council rule that stipulates an amendment may not change the purpose of a bill.
“It’s an interesting suggestion to take an otherwise unpalatable tax increase that businesses complain puts them at a business disadvantage and to make it palatable link the proceeds to—I won’t say bulletproof—but to a need that is pretty solidly agreed on by everyone,” Henry said.
This writer, fo one, has done his part.

Do you know how many bottles of beer I've bought retail in this city since the bottle tax was enacted?

One six-pack.  Of something I was getting for someone else.

A post on the subject from last year.

1 comment:

JohnM. said...

I'm with you on this Alex. Even aside from madame mayor's timing regarding her proposal, I just find this bizarre.

If I recall correctly, a number of critics of the 2 cent tax indicated they felt the mayor's revenue expectations were overly optimistic (pollyanna predictions are something I've come to expect from our mayor), so no surprise that the first year "yield" fell well short of the predicted goal.

That being said, I'm starting to wonder if Stephanie has lost her mind. Who in their right mind would propose an even greater tax increase, when the present tax isn't scheduled to expire for another 20 months... and where setting a 3 year time limit was the only way to make this smoking pile the least bit palatable in the first place?

Frankly, if you were a supporter of the original 2 cent tax, wouldn't you feel just a bit betrayed at this point? Sort of like someone who gives a relative an expensive watch for a present, only to have them look up with tears in their eyes and say: "gee, this is alright I guess, but I really wanted a Longines."