A bill that would bring Baltimore’s 2-cent bottle tax to an end a year sooner than scheduled faces an uncertain future.
The Baltimore City Council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee held a hearing on the bill, which would discontinue the bottle tax June 30.
But after the hearing Councilman Carl Stokes, the committee’s chairman, said he was unsure when the bill would be voted on in committee. The timeline for the bill is limited because its sponsor, Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, lost her Democratic primary election last month.
“We don’t have much time,” Conaway said with a laugh during a telephone interview.
There’s also the question of whether the bill has enough support to be voted out of committee.
Despite support from businesses, unions and trade groups to end the tax, some council members are hesitant to cut off a revenue stream when the city desperately needs it. A Department of Finance report to the committee states the bottle tax is expected to reap $4.9 million in fiscal year 2013.
Committee members Councilman William Cole and Council Vice President Ed Reisinger both voiced support for the bottle tax. Both men cast doubt on assertions by retailers and distributors that the tax is the reason business is down, and not the economy.
But Councilman Warren Branch expressed concerns about the tax during the hearing, and worried that it was hurting the Coca-Cola bottling plant in his East Baltimore district. Councilman Bill Henry, the committee's vice chair, has said that he intends to support the bill shortening the sunset provision. Henry opposed the bottle tax when it was initially proposed.
Conaway said the bottle tax is already costing jobs in her district. She said the tax played a role in Pepsi Co. at its plant in Hampden earlier this year.
Darren Clark, Pepsi Co.’s director of government affairs, said the tax wasn’t the only reason the company decided to shut down production at its Union Avenue plant after 45 years, but it was a factor. Clark portrayed the mayor’s administration as unhelpful when Pepsi was considering whether to consider making the product in Baltimore.
“Instead of being shown what to do to keep it a viable option we were shown the door,” Clark told the committee.