If it had not been an election year, it would have been easier for the City Council to eliminate the container tax, find taxes to replace it and hold off angry property owners -- for a while.
But the timing is bad. Council members, anxious to promote themselves as fighters for lower taxes in the next election, voted last month to repeal the city's beverage tax. But they had not then, and still have not, come up with a package of fees to replace the nearly $7 million the city would lose.
In addition, council is under pressure to provide relief for homeowners. But lowering the $5.95 rate by even a nickel would mean $4.2 million less in property tax revenue for the city. Together, a beverage tax repeal and a cut in the property tax rate would leave an $11 million gap. That would force the council either to levy new taxes or cut services, which already are tettering on the brink of mediocrity.
Mayor Schmoke, however, has provided an escape hatch by nTC vetoing the container tax repeal. And that has given Council President Mary Pat Clarke a chance to make political hay. Clarke, who acknowledges commitments to the trade unions and the bottling industry to try to eliminate the tax, is pushing for a vote to override the mayor's veto, though it is clearly not possible.
The seven-member African-American coalition has said it will stand behind the mayor, so there simply won't be enough votes for an override. In making such a pledge, coalition members have put themselves on the line; if Clarke doesn't back off they will be saddled with the onus of not supporting lower taxes. And Clarke will get credit for trying to cut taxes. It should not have to come to that. Because an override has no chance, there is no reason -- except pure political grandstanding -- for the vote even to come to the floor.
In a city starved for revenue, the container tax remains a workable way to raise money. It should be retained, and supplemented with other fees, so that the quality of services can be bolstered and the tax rate lowered as well.
Sadly, however, too many council members seem more concerned with what the electorate is going to say on Sept. 12 than with the very real fiscal crisis facing the city.