Baltimore Sun city hall reporter Julie Scharper writes:

Today marks not only the longest day of the year, but also the longest council meeting of the year. After months of wrangling, the Baltimore City Council finally will pass a final version of the city's budget tonight through a complicated series of meetings and hearings likely to last several hours.

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What is still not known is the fate of the bottle tax. As of this afternoon, city officials were still attempting to persuade council members to resurrect the four-cent tax, which was efectively killed by a tie vote last Thursday. The council could revisit the issue if a member who voted against it asks for it to be reconsidered. The administration, which estimates that the tax could generate $11 million in revenue and reverse cuts to many programs, especially public works, continues to lobby for the tax.

Councilman Warren Branch voted against the tax last week, surprising many in City Hall who thought he would support it because he was a long-time public works employee and a former leader in the AFSCME union, which has supported the tax. On Friday, Branch told city officials that he would not budge on the tax, snuffing the hope that he would be the one to bring it back.

But fans of the tax hold out hope that one of the other council members who voted against it — Helen Holton, James B. Kraft, Belinda Conaway, Agnes Welch, Nick D'Adamo or Bill Henry — would ask for it to be reconsidered at tonight's meeting. Kraft sent an e-mail to constituents detailing why he was not backing the tax and said today he remains firm.

However, several water advocacy groups have criticized Kraft, one of the most environmentally conscious council members, for not supporting it because Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says some of the proceeds will be used to maintain trash-skimming operations in the Harbor. In his letter, Kraft opines that it would be unlikely for the mayor to discontinue such an important and high-profile service during an election year.If you plan to watch tonight's meeting, prepare for an evening of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo worthy of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The council will open the meeting, vote on the preliminary budget and recess. Then City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young will put on his other hat as head of the Board of Estimates and that panel will approve the budget.

Next the council will reconvene and approve 29 supplemental bills that would restore funding to many cuts outlined in a preliminary budget. Then they will recess again and the budget committee will hold a hearing on the supplementals. If all goes according to plan, the council will one convene last time and give final approval to the budget.

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