Business leaders, residents speak out against taxes proposed by Schmoke Parking, energy levies draw most fire at hearings

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Business leaders and residents went to Baltimore City Hall yesterday to oppose several tax proposals that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says need to be approved in some combination to cover an expected $4.9 million budget shortfall.

Two proposals -- a parking levy and an energy levy -- drew the most opposition as nearly 25 business leaders said businesses will fail or move from the city if more taxes are imposed on them.

"It would be a mistake to, in the heat of a budget crisis, subject [nonprofit organizations] to additional taxes," said Greater Baltimore Committee vice president Bonnie S. Copeland, whose organization, with other nonprofits organizations, could face an 8 percent energy tax.

Most members of the City Council's Taxation and Finance Committee, which conducted hearings on eight tax proposals yesterday, seemed to side with tax opponents.

The council members said an early retirement plan approved by the council Monday will cover the shortfall. The plan calls for eliminating several hundred jobs this year.

"Until we quantify the savings impact from [the retirement plan], I seriously doubt that any of these proposals are going to pass," said committee chairman Martin O'Malley.

But Schmoke contends that a tax is necessary, because payouts for accrued vacation and sick leave will prevent savings from the retirement plan from being felt until next year.

About 60 people spoke against the eight tax proposals, including a piggyback tax, a bottle tax, a video game tax and a grocery bag tax.

The proposed parking tax "will have a substantial and pervasive effect on the many different industries in Baltimore that rely on a daily influx of people for business," said Ira C. Cooke, a lobbyist for the Coalition Against Higher Parking Taxes, formed to oppose the tax.

The parking tax would replace the 45-cents-per-ticket and $12 surcharge on monthly tickets with a flat 19 percent tax that would raise an additional $2.5 million a year. At an average daily downtown rate of $5.93 before taxes, the new tax would be $1.13 -- an increase of 68 cents.

The mayor's $2.3 billion budget, which is being considered by the council, has come under heavy criticism because of his initial plan to cut library and recreation services and museum funding sharply unless a proposed increase in the piggyback tax -- calculated as a percentage of the state income tax -- from 50 percent to 55 percent was adopted.

The mayor's other proposals, with those submitted by council members, haven't been well-received either. "The council is serious about making cuts," said committee member Rochelle "Rikki" Spector. "That has to be exploited and exhausted before we talk about taxes."

Pub Date: 5/23/96

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