Council bills would repeal container tax


Joe Six Pack is using his feet to get around the city's beverage-container tax on alcohol, and soft drinks.

That was the message delivered at a City Council hearing yesterday on bills to repeal the 14-month-old tax that adds 4 cents to the cost of 16-ounce beverages in glasses and cans and 2 cents to beverages in smaller containers. Milk and juice products are exempt.

Tavern owners, supermarket managers and beverage route salesmen told the council that beverage sales are down an average of 25 percent in the city since an identical beverage-container tax ended in Baltimore County in December after pressure from county taxpayers and retailers. About 100 people attended the hearing.

"My sales of cases of beer and soda are down as much as 53 percent for January, which means a loss of about $7,500," said Joe Gordon, owner of Genie's Liquors in the 1100 block of Dundalk Ave.

"My customers are going down the street several blocks into Baltimore County, where they can buy a case of Bud for $11.99," Gordon testified. "Because of the tax, I have to charge $13.49 for the same case."

Bob Haynes, spokesman for the Maryland United License Beverage Association, a group of tavern owners, told the council members: "Joe Six Pack is willing to go an extra mile to save 50 cents on a case of beer and, if the tax isn't repealed, Joe Six Pack may vote you out of office."

The primary bill being considered by the Taxation and Finance Committee would terminate the tax on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Sponsored by council member John A. Schaefer, D-1st, the bill also would allow the tax to be repealed as early as March 31 if the estimated revenue from the tax -- $6 million -- was reached by then. More than $4.5 million has been collected during the first six months of the fiscal year, an average of $700,000 a month.

With the city finding it difficult to come up with revenue to balance its budget for the next fiscal year, the Schmoke administration wants to keep the tax.

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