Bottle tax not a 'good start' or end

The Sun's recent editorial ("Bottle tax, or what?" April 22) calls a proposal to rehabilitate city schools with a regressive, job-threatening beverage tax a "good start."

The Sun misses the broader economic implications the tax would have on residents who are already heavily assessed. Higher taxes curb economic activity as fewer hard-working families are able to purchase needed goods and services. How much more can citizens take in a city where the median household income is $39,000 a year? Ratcheting up taxes on individuals and organizations that employ local people will end up destroying jobs when the unemployment is already more than 9 percent.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the total cost for renovating Baltimore schools is an estimated $2.8 billion. According to this editorial, the proposal to increase the existing container tax to 5 cents on soft drinks, iced teas, energy drinks, juice, beer and bottled water would generate an estimated $10 million per year. Under this plan, revenue collected from the beverage container tax would be pooled with future revenue from the yet-to-be-built slots parlor and $12 million from other school money that would allegedly enable the city to raise $300 million in the bond market.

How is this a credible plan, when it leaves the city scrambling to raise an additional $2.5 billion?

Why destroy jobs and burden the hardworking families in Baltimore with a plan that is suspect and doesn't fully address the systemic problems with school infrastructure funding? What The Sun and some in City Council refuse to believe is that these jobs matter. This tax threatens a variety of good-paying jobs, including sales representatives, forklift operators, truck drivers, grocery store clerks and warehouse managers.

The 2-cent beverage tax levied in 2010 spurred Pepsi to cut nearly 80 positions. Now, Canada Dry, which employs 45 union workers in a bottling plant just across the city line, will weigh moving operations to New Jersey if the container tax increase passes. Local grocers are in the same boat, unable to fill positions because of lost sales. These jobs are not expendable. And at a time when good jobs are tough to come by, our lawmakers should be focused on policies that promote job growth — not chasing business out of the city.

There are alternatives to the tax. The City Council should consider looking at ways other cities have addressed the problem. The Greenville, S.C. school district created a nonprofit entity with bond issuing authority that raised $800 million. New Haven, Conn., used state bonds, but met a required match by selling delinquent property tax liens. And Portland, Ore., formed a nonprofit real estate entity that negotiated leases of under used buildings, their sale and property purchases.

The citizens of Baltimore and their children who attend public schools deserve better than a "good start." They deserve a serious plan that is free of gimmickry and the typical knee-jerk response that another tax will make everything better. The City Council should address this issue in a comprehensive manner that puts Baltimore on a sustainable path for years to come.

Ellen Valentino, Annapolis

The writer is executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association.

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