With Baltimore desperately seeking new tax money for financially strapped schools, Councilwoman Sheila Dixon yesterday proposed bringing back a tax of up to 4 cents on each beverage container sold in the city.
The bill, introduced at the weekly council meeting, was immediately met with outrage by store owners, bottling company representatives and fellow council members, who worked to repeal the tax last year.
Dixon, who represents the 4th District and is considered one of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's chief council allies, stood alone in calling for reinstituting the tax, which brought in $6.1 million a year before it was phased out.
"Some of my colleagues are probably saying 'Oh no, not again,' " Dixon said on the council floor after introducing the measure. "But who would not support paying 2 or 4 cents, depending on the size of the container, if the money is going specifically to the Department of Education?"
Dixon quickly got her answer from council colleagues, who opposed the measure. Even traditional Schmoke allies backed away from the bill, saying that it would fall short of closing the $14 million gap between what the school district requested and what was granted by the city.
"It still won't solve the problem and will cause another problem," said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector of the 5th District. "We just lifted this tax. We finished it and we should leave it alone."
Dixon's bill would add a 2-cent tax on beverage containers of 16 ounces or less and a 4-cent levy on larger sizes. Baltimore phased out its container tax last year after Baltimore County removed a similar tax.
The city followed after store owners complained that consumers were avoiding their stores and traveling into the county to get cases of soda and beer for 50 cents to $1 less.
John Rothenhoefer, owner of Three Brothers Discount Liquors on Frederick Avenue, led the push in 1995 to have the container tax repealed. On learning of Dixon's latest proposal, Rothenhoefer promised to rally his supporters to fight the measure again.
"It almost put me out of business," said Rothenhoefer, who also serves as treasurer of the Maryland Liquor Stores Association. "My business was cut in half due to that tax."
But Dixon urged the council to work to find more money for city schools.
"We're going to keep revisiting this issue over and over," Dixon said.
Two years ago, Dixon made a similar attempt to reinstate the container tax, but the proposal failed when it could not get the approval of the council's Taxation and Finance Committee. Councilman Martin O'Malley, chairman of the panel, said Dixon's lack of a co-sponsor for the latest measure made the chances of it getting committee approval unlikely.
The Maryland Soft Drink Association, which includes businesses such as Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., immediately announced their opposition to Dixon's bill.
"We are disappointed that council member Dixon has decided to introduce a bill that has already been proven and recognized as harmful to local businesses and city residents," said Katherine Whiting, a spokeswoman for the association.
Schmoke has not pushed the tax, but has said he would not oppose it, either.
In other action, the council gave preliminary approval to two measures that would crack down on vicious dogs in the city.
One measure would prohibit city residents from participating in dog fighting, which some council members said has been growing. Any resident found pitting one dog against another for fighting is subject to fines of $500 to $1,000.
The other bill would prohibit the keeping and training of attack dogs in the city, and would create a vicious-dog hearing board to determine whether animals with numerous attacks should be destroyed.
Pub Date: 5/12/98